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Herzog on Herzog 

Paul Cronin was a researcher and translator on Faber and Faber's 
Cassavetes on Cassavetes and is the editor of two forthcoming 

volumes in the University of Mississippi's 'Conversations with 
Filmmakers' series (Errol Morris and Roman Polanski). Currently 
he is writing a book about cameraman Haskell Wexler for the 
American Society of Cinematographers, and is editing a collection 
of writings and lectures by director Alexander Mackendrick for 
Faber and Faber. His film 'Look Out Haskell, It's Real!' The 
Making of Medium Cool has been screened on television and at 
festivals worldwide, and he is co-founder of the production com- 
pany Sticking Place Films ( 

in the same series 

edited by Stig Bjorkman 

edited by Frederic Strauss 

edited by Mark Salisbury 

edited by Ray Carney 
edited by Chris Rodley 
edited by Anthony Slide 
edited by Costanzo Costantini 

edited by Joseph McBride 

edited by Sidney Gottlieb 
kies'lowski on kies'lowski 

edited by Danusia Stok 
levinson on levinson 
edited by David Thompson 
edited by Graham Fuller 

edited by Chris Rodley 

edited by Philip French 


edited by Graham Fuller 

edited by Gavin Smith 
edited by Kevin Jackson 

edited by David Thompson and Ian Christie 
conversations with Jon Halliday 

Herzog on Herzog 

edited by Paul Cronin 

faberand faber 

First published in 2002 
by Faber and Faber Limited 
3 Queen Square London wciN 3AU 

Published in the United States by Faber and Faber Inc. 
an affiliate of Farrar, Straus and Giroux LLC, New York 

Photoset by Faber and Faber Ltd 
Printed in England by Clays Ltd, St Ives pic 

All rights reserved 

© Werner Herzog, 2002 
Commentary and Introduction © Paul Cronin, 2002 

The right of Werner Herzog and Paul Cronin to be identified as authors of 
this work has been asserted in accordance with Section 77 of the Copyright, 
Designs and Patents Act 1988 

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of 
trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated without 
the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than 
that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this 
condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser 

A CIP record for this book 
is available from the British Library 

ISBN O-57I-20708-I 

2468 10 97531 



' The Shower Curtain 

{Herakles, Game in the Sand, The Unprecedented 

Defence of the Fortress Deutschkreuz) 

2 Blasphemy and Mirages 

{Signs of Life, Last Words, Precautions Against 
Fanatics, The Flying Doctors of East Africa, Even 
Dwarfs Started Small, Fata Morgana) 

3 Adequate Imagery 

{Handicapped Future, Land of Silence and Darkness, 
Aguirre, the Wrath of God, The Great Ecstasy of 
Woodcarver Steiner, No One Will Play with Me) 

4 Athletics and Aesthetics 

{The Enigma ofKaspar Hauser, Heart of Glass) 

5 Legitimacy 

{How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck, 
Stroszek, La Soufriere, Nosferatu the Vampyre, 

6 Defying Gravity 

{God's Angry Man, Huie's Sermon, Fitzcarraldo, 
Ballad of the Little Soldier, The Dark Glow of 
the Mountains 

7 The Work of Illusionists 

(Where the Green Ants Dream, Cobra Verde, Wodaabe, 
Echoes from a Sombre Empire, The Eccentric Private 
Theatre o f the Maharaja of Udaipur, Scream of Stone, 
Film Lesson) 

8 Fact and Truth 

(Lessons o f Darkness, Bells from the Deep, The 
Transformation of the World into Music, Death for 
Five Voices, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Wings of Hope) 

9 The Song of Life 

(My Best Fiend, The Lord and the Laden, Pilgrimage, 

The Minnesota Declaration 





"Those with "something to fall back on" invariably fail back on it. 

They intended to all along. That is why they provided themselves 
with it. But those with no alternative see the world differently.' 

David Mamet 

'Ich mochte als Reiter fliegen, in einer blutigen Schlacht. ' 
[T want to fly like a rider midst the bloody tussle of war.'] 

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser 

Most of what you've heard about Werner Herzog is untrue. More 
than any other director, living or dead, the number of false 
rumours and downright lies disseminated about the man and his 
films is truly astonishing. In researching Herzog's life and work, a 
process that involved trawling through endless sources, it soon 
became clear how frequently some would contradict others. And 
while recently spending time with the man, I confess to having 
deviously longed to trip him up, find holes in his arguments, 
uncover a mass of contradictory statements. But to no avail, and I 
now conclude that either he's a master liar, or more probably, he's 
been telling me the truth. 

Fortunately there are some basic facts that are indisputable. He 
was bom in Munich, Germany, in 1942, and as a child lived in 
Sachrang, a remote mountain village near the Austrian border. He 
started travelling on foot at the age of fourteen and made his first 
phone call when he was seventeen. To finance his early films he 
worked the night shift as a welder in a steel factory while at school, 
resulting in Herakles, made in 1961. He directed five features star- 
ring Klaus JCinski, and Francois Truffaut once called him the most 


important film director alive. But nota bene: he didn't direct Kinski 
from behind the camera with a rifle. He didn't put anyone's life at 
risk when making Fitzcarraldo. He is not insane, nor is he eccentric. 
His work is not in the tradition of the German romanticists. And he 
is not a megalomaniac. Rather, he's an extremely pleasant, generous 
and modest man who happens to be blessed with extraordinary 
vision and intuitive intelligence. A fierce sense of humour too that 
can leave you reeling, and as such written interviews with the man 
can be seriously inadequate. For example, how to transcribe the fol- 
lowing with the plajdiilly sardonic tone with which it was told? 'I 
remember having a public discussion with the diminutive Agnes 
Varda, who seemed to take offence at my postulation that a film- 
maker, rather than having this or that quality, should be able to 
clear his or her own height. She didn't like that very much.' 
Yet Herzog's body of work of forty-five films (eleven features, the 
rest 'documentaries') is no joke, one of the most important in post- 
war European cinema and perhaps the key to what is known as the 
New German Cinema. Signs of Life (1968) is a wonderfully assured 
first feature which introduced to us the classic Herzog anti-hero: 
maniacal, isolated and dangerous. In 1970 the Left accused him of 
fascism when, he explains, 'instead of promoting the inevitable 
world revolution I ridiculed it' in Even Dwarfs Started Small, the 
bizarre tale of rebellious dwarfs taking over the asylum. His 1971 
film Land of Silence and Darkness tells the story of the deaf and 
blind Fini Straubinger and remains one of the finest 'documentaries' 
ever made, while his international breakthrough came in 1972 with 
Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Herzog's first collaboration with actor 
Klaus Kinski, who plays a crazed Conquistador leading his men 
downriver on a raft to their doom in search of El Dorado. 
In 1974 Herzog cast Bruno S., a forty-year-old shell of a man 
who had spent most of his life institutionalized, as the sixteen-year- 
old Kaspar Hauser in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and hypnotized 
his entire cast during the shooting of Heart of Glass two years 
later. He rushed to a volcanic Caribbean island about to explode to 
film La Soufriere, paid homage to F. W. Murnau in his version of 
Nosferatu (1979) and in 1982 dragged a boat over a mountain in 
the middle of the Amazon jungle for Fitzcarraldo. More recently 
Herzog has developed an extraordinary body of 'documentary' 
work by showing us the burning oil-wells of Kuwait in Lessons o f 


Darkness, telling the story of Carlo Gesualdo (Prince of Venosa, 
sixteenth-century musical genius and multiple murderer) in Death 
for Five Voices, and exploring the life of Vietnam POW survivor 
Dieter Dengler in Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Over the past twenty 
years he has also directed over a dozen operas across Europe and 
the Americas, has published several volumes of prose, and has 
appeared in several films as an actor. 

As a film director his place in cinema history is assured. And 
when it comes to the man himself, I could find nothing more inci- 
sive than this comment from Herzog's own mother: 'When he was 
in school, Werner never learned an}1:hing. He never read the books 
he was supposed to read, he never studied, he never knew what he 
was supposed to know, it seemed. But in reality, Werner always 
knew everything. His senses were remarkable. If he heard the 
slightest sound, ten years later he would remember it precisely, he 
would talk about it, and maybe use it some way. But he is 
absolutely unable to explain anything. He knows, he sees, he 
understands, but he cannot explain. That is not his nature. Every- 
thing goes into him. If it comes out, it comes out transformed.' 
Herzog is a figure sorely underappreciated in his native Ger- 
many and has been somewhat ignored in English-language film 
scholarship. As such, this is a book that has been screaming to be 
written for years, the primary obstacle having been Herzog him- 
self. Two years ago, when I first contacted him about the possibil- 
ity of this book, I received a handwritten fax. It read: T do not do 
self-scrutiny. I do look into the mirror in order to shave without 
cutting myself, but I do not know the color of my eyes. I do not 
want to assist in a book on me.' So Herzog on Herzog could never 
have been edited by an academic or aesthetician, for this is a film 
director who does not respond well to deep ideological and critical 
investigations into his work. 'When you question someone about 
his child, you don't wonder about the way it was bom,' he wrote 
to me last year. 'So why do this with a film?' 

The conversations in this book take a chronological approach 
as each film - from Herakles in 1962 to Invincible in 2001 - is dis- 
cussed in turn. The text also provides a forum for Herzog's well- 
honed takes on the things, ideas and people that have preoccupied 
him for so many years. An overtly analytical approach has been 
forgone in favour of what is a very practically orientated text and 


one which I hope gives new meaning to that oft-cited Nietzsche 
quote, 'All writing is useless that is not a stimulus to activity.' I am 
also conscious of the fact that there are very few people out there 
who have seen every single Herzog film, and as such have 
attempted to edit our conversations so that even if the reader 
hasn't seen the film under discussion, there will still be something 
immediate and tangible to appreciate: a story or anecdote maybe, 
which in turn might lead to a theme or - to use Herzog's own lan- 
guage - something more 'ecstatic' even than that. 

Most of our time together was spenr in January and February 
2001 in London where Herzog was doing post-production on 
Invincible. In January 2002 we sat down once again in Munich, 
and then a month later in Los Angeles. The resulting text presented 
here has been cut down from a much longer manuscript, as the 
more 'confessional' elements, and those not directly related to the 
films themselves, were excised. Herzog has always been careful to 
make a distinction between what is 'private' and what is 'personal', 
and anything that was not directly related to the films was sliced 
away. What's more, over the course of our lengthy talks we would 
often repeatedly touch on the same subjects from different angles, 
and so Herzog's answers have been compiled into single responses 
which has sometimes resulted in lengthy responses to very short 
questions. 'You should let the readers know this,' Herzog told me. 
'I sound so talkative in the book, but I'm really not that garrulous.' 
Several months ago, as I was in the thick of editing the tran- 
scripts, I spoke to Herzog on the phone. 'When will the book be 
ready?' he asked. 'You must do the five-day version. It doesn't need 
structure, it needs lifel Leave the gaps in it, leave it porous. Shake 
the structure out and just write the book.' Well, I (kind of) did this, 
but still feel the text has structure - and much life - to it. And 
though it is impossible to capture a man's life in 300 pages, though 
there remain so many things left unsaid (or at least unpublished) 
about Herzog's life and work, though the man is, for me, only 
slightly more discernible now than he was when I first met him, I 
do feel Herzog on Herzog fairly successfully captures the ideas, 
insights and sensibilities of this important film director. 
Through my research for this book I found excuses to travel to 
some of my favourite cities and visit some extraordinary libraries 
and archives. Thanks are due to library staff at the following 


institutions who provided invaluable assistance: the British Film 
Institute, London; the Cinematheque Quebecoise, Montreal; the 
Norsk Filminstitut, Oslo; the Danske Filminstitut, Copenhagen; the 
Hochschule fiir Fernsehen und Film, Munich; the Film Museum, 
Berlin; the Cinematheque Royale, Brussels; the Cinematheque 
Municipale, Luxembourg; the Cinematheque Suisse, Lausanne; and 
the Filmmuseum, Amsterdam. Thanks also to staff at the German 
Historical Institute, London; the Imperial War Museum Library, 
London; the Bibliotheque du Film, Paris; the Center for Motion 
Picture Study at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, 
Los Angeles; the New York Library of the Performing Arts; and the 
Film Study Center of the Museum of Modern Art, New York. 
Special thanks to Lucki Stipetic, Monika Kostinek and Irma Strehle 
at Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, Munich. 

My own time with Herzog has been nothing if not challenging 
(this is the best of all possible adjectives), and brings Chekhov (via 
Mamet) to mind: 

ASTROv: This or that, that we're living, you know, is our life. 

IVAN petrovich: Itis? 
ASTROV : Quite. 

On a personal note I owe much to those who have been support- 
ive of this project, whether they know it or not: Ian Bahrami, Joe 
Bini, Ray Carney, Susan Daly, Walter Donohue, Jay Douglas, Roger 
Ebert, Lizzie Francke, Snorre Fredlund, Jeremy Freeson, Herb Golder, 
Marie-Antoinette Guillochon, Remi Guillochon, Lena Herzog, 
Martje Herzog, Rudolph Herzog, David Horrocks, Richard Kelly, 
Harmony Korine, Peter-Pavel Kraljic, Tatjana Kraljic, Joshua Kro- 
nen, Howie Movshovitz, Julius Ratjen, S. F. Said, P. Adams Sitney, 
Gavin Syevens, Amos Vogel, Kate Ward, Haskell Wexler and Peter 

Special thanks to Werner for his time and vision. This book is 
for Abby, David and Jonathan, without whom my work over the 
years would have been impossible. 

Paul Cronin 
March 2002 


Facing the stark alternative to see a book on me compiled from 
dusty interviews with all the wild distortions and lies, or collabo- 
rating - 1 choose the much worse option: to collaborate. 

Werner Herzog 
Los Angeles 
February 2002 


1. The Shower Curtain 

Before we start, are there any philosophical insights you'd like to 
give your readers so they might sleep easier at nights? 

Well, let me say just this, something for human beings everywhere, 
whether they be filmmakers or otherwise. I can answer your ques- 
tion only by quoting hotel mogul Conrad Hilton, who was once 
asked what he would like to pass on to posterity. 'Whenever you 
take a shower, always make sure the curtain is inside the tub,' he 
said. So I sit here and recommend to people the same. Never ever 
forget the shower curtain. 

When did you first realize that filmmaking was something you 
were going to spend your life doing? 

From the moment I could think independently I knew I was going 
to make films. I never had a choice about becoming a director. This 
became clear to me within a few dramatic weeks at the age of four- 
teen when I began to travel on foot and converted to the Catholic 
faith. After a long series of failures it was only a small step into 
filmmaking, even though to this day I have problems seeing it as a 
real profession. 

You're known as a filmmaker who likes to explore far-flung cor- 
ners of the world. When did you start to travel? 

Even before I had officially left school I Jived in Manchester for a 
few months, a place I was drawn to because of a girlfriend. I 
bought a run-down house in the slums of the city together with 
four people from Bengal and three people from Nigeria. It was one 


of those nineteenth-century terrace houses built for the working 
class; the back yard was full of debris and garbage, and the house 
was full of mice. That is where I learned English. Then, at the age 
of nineteen, immediately after my final school exams in 1961,1 left 
Munich for Greece and drove a truck as part of a convoy to Athens. 
From there I went to the island of Crete where I made some money 
and then took a boat to Alexandria in Egypt with the intention of 
travelling to the Belgian Congo. By that time the Congo had won 
its independence and almost immediately the deepest anarchy and 
the darkest violence had set in. I am fascinated by the idea that our 
civilization is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos 
and darkness, and that in this country everything overwhelmingly 
dangerous had come into the open. Only later did I learn that of 
those who had made it to the most dangerous Eastern Congolese 
provinces at the time, almost all had perished. 

So where did you go from Alexandria? 

I travelled basically along the Nile to the Sudan, and today I thank 
God on my knees that on the way to Juba, not too far from East- 
ern Congo, I became very sick. I knew that to survive I had to get 
back as quickly as possible, and luckily I made it back up to 
Aswan. At that time the dam was still under construction. The 
Russians had built the concrete foundations and there were lots of 
German engineers working on the electrical intestines of the dam. 
One of them found me after I had taken shelter in a tool shed. I 
had a very high fever and did not even know how long I had been 
there. I have only very blurred recollections of it all. Rats bit me on 
my elbow and in my armpit, and apparently they wanted to use the 
wool from my sweater for a nest because when I stretched out I 
discovered a huge hole. I remember being woken by one rat who 
ran up and bit me on the cheek, and then saw it scurry away into 
a corner. The wound didn't heal for many weeks and I still have the 

I finally made it back to Germany where I eventually made my 
first couple of films. Once in a while I did show up at Munich uni- 
versity, where I was supposed to be studying history and literature, 
but I certainly cannot claim to have been a very serious student. I 
hated literature at school but kind of enjoyed listening to one 


woman professor at the university who was very intelhgent and 
demanding. I know she gave me certain insights that I am very glad 
to have now. 

How did your parents react to your plans to become a filmmaker? 

We should not speak of parents in the plural, since my father never 
played a part in my life. But in August 1961 my mother, Elizabeth, 
sent me two letters - on consecutive days - which I received when 
I was on Crete. In them she wrote that my father, Dietrich, was 
anxious to dissuade me from becoming a film director, as before 
leaving Munich apparently I had made some pronouncement that 
I was going to do just that upon my return. I had already written 
several screenplays and had submitted various proposals to pro- 
ducers and TV stations from the age of about fourteen or fifteen. 
But my father was quite convinced that my idealism would be 
crushed within a few years because he thought I would never 
achieve what I wanted to. He thought I did not have the energy or 
perseverance and sense for business to survive in the intrigue and 
hard milieu of the film business. 

What was your mother's attitude? 

My mother took a more sensible approach. She was not dissuasive 
like my father, rather she tried to give me a realistic idea of what I 
was getting myself into and what might be a wise move. She 
explained to me what was going on economically in West Ger- 
many at the time and in the letters she asked me to think about my 
future very carefully. 'It's too bad that we never talked about it in 
detail,' she wrote. But my mother was always very supportive. I 
would run away from school and disappear for weeks at a time 
and she would not know where I was; sensing that I would be 
away for a time, she would immediately write a letter to school 
sajdng I had pneumonia. She realized that I was one of those who 
should not be kept in school indefinitely. On several occasions I 
would walk and hitch-hike to northern Germany, stajdng in aban- 
doned houses or villas if no one was around, and got very good at 
getting into these places without leaving a trace. 

In these letters my mother tried to convince me to return to 
Germany so I could start an apprenticeship she had set up for me 


in a photographer's lab. I had to get back by September so as not 
to miss another year. For her the rush was on. She had spoken to 
an emplojTTient expert who told her that filmmaking was a diffi- 
cult profession to break into and that because I had only high- 
school exams I should start in a photo lab. After that I could move 
up to a movie lab, which he said would be the basis to start as an 
assistant director in a film company. But I had something else in 
mind and could not be persuaded. 

You were born in 1942 in Munich, the largest city in Bavaria. What 
was it like growing up in the immediate post-war era? 

A couple of days after I was born, the house next door to us in 
Munich was destroyed by a bomb and our place was damaged. We 
were lucky to get out alive - my cradle was sprayed with flying 
glass - so my mother moved me and my brothers out of the city 
to Sachrang, a small mountain village on the German-Austrian 
border. The Kaisergebirge mountains in the Austria Tjrol and 
around Sachrang were one of the last pockets of resistance in Ger- 
many at the end of the war, one of the final places the occupying 
American soldiers moved into. At that time the SS' and the Were- 
wolves'^" were on the run and passed through the village, hiding 
their weapons and uniforms under the farmers' hay before finding 
refuge in the mountains. As a child I was very aware of the border 
between Germany and Austria as a result of my mother often 
taking me and my elder brother across to Wildbichl in Austria. She 
used the two of us to help smuggle various things back to Ger- 
many, the things that could not be found on our side of the border. 
In the post-war period smuggling was quite an accepted thing to 
do; even the police were involved in it. 

My childhood was totally separate from the outside world. As 
a child I knew nothing of cinema, and even telephones did not 
exist for me. A car was an absolute sensation. Sachrang was such 
an isolated place at that time - though it is only about an hour 
and a half s drive from Munich - that I did not know what a 
banana was until I was twelve and I did not make my first tele- 
phone call until I was seventeen. Our house had no water-flushed 
toilet, in fact no running water at all. We had no mattresses; my 
mother would stuff dried ferns into a linen bag and in winter it 


was so cold I would wake up in the morning to find a layer of ice 
on my blanket from frozen breath. But it was wonderful to grow 
up like that. We had to invent our own toys, we were full of imag- 
ination, and the guns and arms we found - remnants of the SS sol- 
diers - just became part of what we owned. As a boy I was part of 
the local gang and invented some kind of flat sailing arrow which 
you would throw with a whip-like action, which made it sail more 
than 600 feet. A wonderful invention. Very difficult to aim, but it 
would sail on and on and on. We invented an entire world around 
us. Part of me has never really adjusted to the things I find around 
me even today. I am still not very good on the phone. I jump 
whenever it rings. 

It might sound bizarre to people today, but things like our dis- 
covery of the arms cache made for a wonderful childhood. Every- 
one thinks that growing up in the ruins of the cities was a terrible 
experience, and for the parents who lost absolutely everything I 
have no doubt that it was. But for the children it truly was the 
most marvellous of times. Kids in the cities took over whole 
bombed-out blocks and would declare the remnants of buildings 
their own to play in where great adventures were acted out. You 
really do not have to commiserate with these kids. Everyone I 
know who spent their early childhood in the ruins of post-war 
Germany raves about that time. It was anarchy in the best sense of 
the word. There were no ruling fathers around and no rules to fol- 
low. We had to invent everything from scratch.3 

What are your earliest memories? 

I have two very distinct early memories. One is of the bombing 
of Rosenheim one night. My mother ripped me and my brother 
out of bed and carried both of us, wrapped in a blanket, one boy 
in each arm, up the slope behind our house. In the distance we 
could see the entire sky of orange and red. She said to us, 'Boys, 
I took you out of bed. You must see this. The city of Rosenheim 
is burning.' For us Rosenheim was the big city at the very end of 
the world. There was a valley and twelve kilometres away at the 
end of the valley was Aschau, where there was a hospital and a 
train station, and beyond that was Rosenheim. That was some- 
how the limit of my universe. Of course as a child I never went 


as far as Rosenheim. Apparently what happened was that 
bombers had flown into Italy, could not drop their bombs 
because of bad visibility, and flying back over the Alps dropped 
them on the first place they could clearly see so they did not 
return loaded.4 

The second very vivid memory is of seeing Our Lord himself. It 
was on Santa Claus Day, the 6 December, when Santa Claus 
appears with a book listing ail your misdeeds of the year, accom- 
panied by a demon-like figure, Krampus. The front door to the 
house opened and suddenly a man stood there. I must have been 
about three and fled under the couch and peed my pants. He was 
wearing brown overalls, no socks and had oily hands. He looked 
at me so kindly and was so gentle, Right away I knew it was the 
Lord himself! I later found out he was a guy from the electricity 
company who happened to be passing. 

One thing that my mother once told me was that I fell quite ill 
when I was five or six. We could not call an ambulance because 
even if we did manage to get hold of one, we were too deeply 
snowed in. So my mother wrapped me in blankets, tied me on a 
sled and pulled me all night to Aschau where I was admitted to 
hospital. She visited me eight days later, coming on foot through 
deep snow. I do not remember this, but she was so amazed that I 
was absolutely without complaint. Apparently I had pulled a 
single piece of thread from the blanket on the bed and for eight 
days had played with it. I was not bored: this thread was full of 
stories and fantasies for me. 

Bavaria was in the American zone of occupation. Do you remem- 
ber the US soldiers? 

Sure. I remember the jeeps driving in and thinking that this was all 
the Americans in the whole world, though it was only about sixty- 
five of them. The GIs all drove with one leg dangling out on the 
bumper and they all had chewing gum. And for the first time I saw 
a black man. I was totally mesmerised because I had only heard 
about black people from fair3^ales. He was a big wonderful man 
with a tremendous voice. I can still hear it today. I would speak 
with him for hours, and one time my mother asked me how I man- 
aged to communicate with him. She said that I replied, 'We talk in 


American.' Once he gave me some chewing gum which I kept for a 
whole year, continuously chewing it. Of course, we were con- 
stantly hungry and looking for food, and this is one reason why I 
felt such a connection to Dieter Dengler many years later. In Little 
Dieter Needs to Fly he talks about peeling the wallpaper from the 
walls of bombed-out houses. His mother would cook it because 
there were nutrients in the glue. This is something we never needed 
to do; things were not quite that bad for us. One time I stumbled 
across some workers who had shot a crow and cooked it in a pot 
next to the road. For the first time in my life I saw an eye of fat 
floating on the surface of the water. Never before had I seen fat like 
that, it really was quite a sensation. With one of the sub-machine 
guns we had found in the forests around town I tried to shoot a 
crow too but never succeeded. I was thrown to the ground by the 
recoil, and my mother - who knew how to shoot a gun - was, con- 
trary to my expectations, not angry and did not punish me. Instead 
she took the gun and said, 'Let me show you how to use this.' She 
taught me how to secure it and unload it, and even took me into 
the forest and shot a single round into a thick beechwood log. The 
bullet went straight through and I remember splinters of wood fly- 
ing out of the other side. She said to me, 'This is what you should 
expect from a gun, so you must never point even a wooden or 
plastic gun at anybody.' I was so stunned by the violence of it that 
I was immediately cured of my preoccupation with these kinds of 
things, and since that day I have not even pointed my finger at 

What were you like as a child? 

I was very much a loner. I learned how to concentrate by neces- 
sity because in Munich the whole family lived together in just 
one room. There were four of us in this tiny place, each doing 
their own thing. I would lie on my back on the floor with a book 
and read for hours no matter how much talking and activity was 
going on. Often I would read all day long, and when I finished, 
I would look up to discover that everyone else had left hours 

It was my older brother Tilbert who really took charge once we 
moved to Munich. He did not like school and was thrown out 


after a couple of years, and he immediately started in business, 
very quickly rising like a comet through the ranks. By the age of 
sixteen he was the main breadwinner in the family, and only 
because of him was I able to continue in school, even though I 
would work myself when I could. I owe a great deal to him. My 
younger brother Lucki is someone with whom I have worked very 
closely over the years. We have different fathers, but for me he is a 
full brother. He had great musical talent as a youngster but quickly 
realized he would not be good enough to compete with the slew of 
other pianists out there and went into business, he too rising like a 
comet. I think this scared him because he soon took off to Asia for 
a while, visiting India, Burma, Nepal and Indonesia. I wrote him a 
letter asking for help making Aguirre, and he crossed the Pacific 
and made it to Peru to give us much needed assistance. Finally he 
started to work with me full-time and has run my film-production 
company since then. 

Is Herzog your real name? 1 

In my parents' divorce my legal name became Stipetic, which was 
my mother's maiden name. Herzog means 'duke' in German and I 
thought there should be someone like Count Basie or Duke Elling- 
ton making films. Whatever protects me from the overwhelming 
evil of the universe. 

What were the first films you saw? 

There was a travelling projectionist for remote provincial schools 
who would bring a selection of 16 -mm films with him, and when I 
was eleven I saw my first two films. Even though I was quire 
stunned that this kind of thing was possible, I was not very taken 
with the first film, which was about Eskimos building an igloo. It 
had a very ponderous commentary and was very boring, and I 
could tell that the Eskimos were not doing a very good job. The 
second film about pygmies building a liana bridge across a jungle 
river in Cameroon was a bit better. The pygmies worked very 
well and I was very impressed that they could build such a well- 
functioning bridge without any real tools. You saw one of the 
pygmies swinging across the river on a liana just like Tarzan and 
they were hanging from the suspension bridge like spiders. It was 


a sensational experience for me and I still like the pygmies for 
having done it that way. 

Later we watched Zorro, Tarzan and Dr Fu Manchu, things 
like that. Most of them were cheap American B-movies, though 
one of the Fu Manchu films was a moment of revelation for me. 
In this film a guy is shot and falls sixty feet from a rock, does a 
somersault in mid-air and then a little kick with his leg. Ten min- 
utes later the exact same shot appeared in another gun battle, 
and I recognized it because of this little kick. They had recycled 
it and thought they could get away with it. I spoke to my friends 
about this and asked them how it was possible the same shot had 
been used twice. Before this moment I thought it was some kind 
of reality I had been watching on screen, that the film was some- 
thing like a documentary. All of a sudden I could see how the film 
was being narrated and edited, how tension and suspense were 
created, and from that day on cinema was something different 
for me. 

You've often spoken of your admiration of F. W. Murnau's films. 
When did you first see the German Expressionist Weimar films of 
the 1910s? 

I never saw any of those films as a child. In fact, I did not see the 
Expressionist films until after I heard Lotte Eisners talk in Berlin 
many years later. 

Did you ever get a chance to see any of the avant-garde work that 
was being done at the time? 

I do recall that when I was about twenty-one a young man named 
P. Adams Sitney'' came to Germany and brought with him a good 
many reels of film, things like Stan Brakhage^ and Kenneth Anger.^ 
I was very impressed that there were so many other films out there 
very different to what I was used to seeing in the cinema. It did not 
even matter to me that I could tell these were not the kinds of 
images that I myself wanted to work with. Seeing that there were 
very bold people out there doing things that were so unexpectedly 
different intrigued me so much that I wrote about them and 
visionary filmmaking, and then asked a film magazine to publish 
the article, which they did in 1964.9 


I showed you a list that a British critic compiled of the lOO best 
films ever made and was quite surprised how many of them you 
hadn't even heard of, let alone seen. 

I am not really what you would call clnematically literate, not 
compared to many film directors. I average maybe one film a 
month and that is usually at a film festival where I will see them all 
at once. I might recall a film I saw years ago and still ache with 
pain about how beautiful it is. When I see a great film it stuns me, 
it is a mystery for me. What constitutes poetry, depth, vision and 
illumination in cinema I cannot name. It is the bad films that have 
really taught me about cinema. The negative definition: for God's 
sake don't do it like that. The sins are easy to name. 
This also applies to my own films. My most immediate and 
radical lesson came from what was my first blunder, Herakles. It 
was a good thing to have made this little film first - rather than 
jump into something much more meaningful to me - because from 
that moment on I had a much better idea as to how I should go 
about my business. Learning from your mistakes is the only real 
way to learn. 

Can you talk more about the intense religious period you went 

Like I said earlier, I had a dramatic religious phase at the age of 
fourteen and converted to Catholicism. Even though I am not a 
member of the Catholic church any longer, to this day there seems 
to be something of a distant religious echo in some of my work. 
Also at the age of fourteen I started to travel on foot for the first 
time. I wanted to go to Albania, that mysterious country which 
was completely closed off to the rest of the world at that time, but 
they would not let me in. So I walked as far as the Adriatic, keep- 
ing close to the Albanian- Yugoslavian frontier all the time, maybe 
fifty metres at most. I never dared enter Albania though. It was my 
first real escape from home life. 

You set up your own production company at a very early age. In 
fact every single film you've made - including the early shorts - has 
been produced through Werner Herzog Filmproduktion. What 
motivated you to take such an active role in producing? 


I must have been around seventeen when I got a call from some 
producers who liked a proposal I had submitted to them. Previ- 
ously I had avoided actually meeting with any of these kinds of 
people because I was so young and felt I would not be taken seri- 
ously. What caused the reactions I usually got from film producers 
was probably the fact that my puberty was late and I looked like a 
tiny school child until I was sixteen or seventeen. Instead I would 
write letters or speak to them on the phone, some of the first phone 
calls I ever made. But finally, after the telephone conversations, 
these producers seemed to be willing to accept me as a first-time 

When I finally walked into their office I saw two men sitting 
behind this huge oak desk. I vividly remember the moment second 
by second. I stood there, totally humiliated as they looked beyond 
me, waiting, as if the father had come into town with his child. The 
first one shouted something so abusive that I wiped it from my 
memory while the other slapped his thigh and laughed, shouting, 
'Aha! The kindergarten is trying to make films nowadays!' The 
whole encounter lasted fifteen seconds, after which I simply turned 
around and left the office knowing full well that I would have to be 
my own producer. The meeting was the culmination of many set- 
backs and humiliations and proved to be a pivotal point for me. I 
knew there and then that until the end of my days I would always 
be confronted by this kind of attitude if I went to others to produce 
my films. 

One of my mother's best friends was married to a wealthy 
industrialist who had a huge mansion, and she took me to see 
this man so he could explain to me how to set up a production 
company. He started with this ridiculous loud voice and just 
shouted at me for nearly an hour: 'This is completely foolish! 
You idiot! You have never been in business! You don't know 
what you are doing!' Two days later I founded Werner Herzog 

But you're hardly a typical Hollywood mogul, are you? 

My company was really only an emergency measure simply 
because no one else would finance my films, and to this day I 
have only ever produced my own films. Right up to around the 


time of Nosferatu, I worked out of my small apartment in 
Munich with a telephone and a tjqDewriter. There was no clear 
division between private life and work. Instead of a living room 
we had an editing room, and I would sleep there too. I had no 
secretary, no one to help me with taxes, book-keeping, contracts, 
screenplay writing, organization. I did absolutely everything 
myself; it was an article of faith, a matter of simple human 
decency to do the dirty work as long as I could. Three things - a 
phone, tjqjewriter and car - are all you need to produce films. 
Inevitably, as my work reached larger international audiences 
and there were more and more retrospectives planned and too 
many people to stay in touch with, it just became too difficult to 
operate the office on my own. 

I remember that when Twentieth Century Fox were first inter- 
ested in co-producing Nosferatu they wanted me to travel to 
HolljTvood. I did not want to go so I invited them to Munich 
instead. I met them at the airport and squeezed all four executives 
into my Volkswagen bus with no heater on a freezing winter morn- 
ing and drove into the Bavarian countryside. Later, they were 
astonished that I had budgeted only $2 for the screenplay as 1 
needed only zoo sheets of blank paper and a pencil. 

Where did you get the money to finance your early films? 

During my final years at high school I earned my own money by 
working the night shift as a welder in a steel factory, as a parking- 
lot attendant, things like that. Maybe the most important piece of 
advice I can give to those of you heading into the world of film is 
that as long as you are able-bodied, as long as you can make 
money yourself, do not go looking for office jobs to pay the rent. I 
would also be very wary of excruciatingly useless bottom-rung 
secretarial jobs in film-production companies. Go out to where the 
real world is, go work as a bouncer in a sex-club, a warden in a 
lunatic asylum or in a slaughterhouse. Walk on foot, learn lan- 
guages, learn a craft or trade that has nothing to do with cinema. 
Filmmaking must have experience of life at its foundation. I know 
that so much of what is in my films is not just invention, it is very 
much life itself, my own life. You can tell when you read Conrad 
or Hemingway how much real life is in those books. Those are the 


guys who would have made great films, though I thank God they 
were writers. 

For my first film Herakles I needed a good amount of cash, rela- 
tively speaking, because I wanted to start shooting in 35 mm and 
not 16 mm. For me filmmaking was only 35 mm; ever37thing else 
seemed amateurish. 35 mm had the capacity to demonstrate, more 
than an3^hing else, whether or not I had anything to ofl^er, and 
when I started out I thought to myself, 'If I fail, I will fail so hard 
that I will never recover.' I found myself part of a group of young 
filmmakers. There were about eight of us and most of them were 
slightly older than me. Out of the eight planned films, four never 
went into production, and another three were shot but never fin- 
ished because of sound problems. The failure of the others was 
very significant: it dawned on me that organization and commit- 
ment were the only things that started and finished films, not 
money. When it came to Fitzcarraldo, it was not money that pulled 
that boat over the mountain, it was faith. 

You've said that Herakles is more an exercise in editing than any- 
thing eke, that you were experimenting with a medium that you 
were a complete novice in. 

Looking back at Herakles today, I find the film rather stupid and 
pointless, though at the time it was an important test for me. It 
taught me about editing together very diverse material that would 
not normally sit comfortably as a whole. For the film I took stock 
footage of an accident at Le Mans where something like eighty 
people died after fragments of a car flew into the spectators' stand, 
and inter-cut it with footage of bodybuilders, including Mr Ger- 
many 1962. For me it was fascinating to edit material together that 
had such separate and individual lives. The film was some kind of 
an apprenticeship for me. I just felt it would be better to make a 
film than go to film school. 

What are your views on film schools? I gather you'd prefer people 
just went out and made films than spending years at school. 

I personally do not believe in the kind of film schools you find all 
over the world today. I never worked as another filmmaker's 
assistant and I never had any formal training. My early films 


come from my very deepest commitment to what I was doing, 
what I felt I had no choice but to do, and as such they are totally 
unconnected to what was going on at the film schools - and cin- 
emas - of the time. It is my strong autodidactic streak and my 
faith in my own work that have kept me going for more than 
forty years. 

A pianist is made in childhood, a filmmaker at any age. I say 
this only because physically, in order to play the piano well, the 
body needs to be conditioned from a very early age. Real musi- 
cians have an innate feel for all music and all instruments, some- 
thing that can be instilled only at an early age. Of course, it is 
possible to learn to play the piano as an adult, but the intuitive 
qualities needed will not be there. As a young filmmaker I read in 
an encyclopedia the fifteen or so pages on filmmaking. Ever3^hing 
I needed to get myself started came from this book. It has always 
seemed to me that almost everything you are forced to learn at 
school you forget in a couple of years. But the things you set out 
to learn yourself in order to quench a thirst, these are things you 
never forget. It was a vital early lesson for me, realizing that the 
knowledge gleaned from a book would suffice for my first week 
on the set, which is all the time needed to learn ever37thing you 
need to know as a filmmaker. To this day the technical knowledge 
I have is relatively rudimentary. If there are things that seem too 
complicated, I experiment; if I am still not able to master it, I hire 
a technician. 

You've talked in the past about how collaborative film is, and how 
many different and varied skills it requires. 

Filmmaking is a more vulnerable journey than most other creative 
ventures. When you are a sculptor you have only one obstacle - a 
lump of rock - on which you chisel away. But filmmaking involves 
organization and money and technology, things like that. You 
might get the best shot of your life but if the lab mixes the devel- 
oping solution wrongly then your shot is gone for ever. You can 
build a ship, cast 5,000 extras and plan a scene with your leading 
actors, and in the morning one of them has a stomach ache and 
cannot go on set. These things happen, everything is interwoven 
and interlinked , and if one element does not function properly 


then the whole venture is prone to collapse. Filmmakers should be 
taught about how things will go wrong, about how to deal with 
these problems, how to handle a crew that is getting out of hand, 
how to handle a producing partner who will not pay up or a dis- 
tributor who won't advertise properly, things like this. People who 
keep moaning about these kinds of problems are not really suited 
to this line of business. 

And, vitally, aspiring filmmakers have to be taught that some- 
times the only way of overcoming problems involves real physi- 
cality. Many great filmmakers have been astonishingly physical, 
athletic people. A much higher percentage than writers or musi- 
cians. Actually, for some time now I have given some thought to 
opening a film school. But if I did start one up you would only be 
allowed to fill out an application form after you had travelled 
alone on foot, let's say from Madrid to BGev, a distance of about 
5,000 kilometres. While walking, write. Write about your experi- 
ences and give me your notebooks. I would be able to tell who 
had really walked the distance and who had not. While you are 
walking you would learn much more about filmmaking than if 
you were in a classroom. During your voyage you will learn more 
about what your future holds than in five years at film school. 
Your experiences would be the very opposite of academic knowl- 
edge, for academia is the death of cinema. It is the very opposite 
of passion. 

Tell me about your ideal film school. 

This is something we can talk about later when we discuss Film 
Lesson, the programmes I made for Austrian television, but let me 
say here that there are some very basic skills that any filmmaker 
must have. First of all, learn languages. One also needs to be able 
to tj^e and to drive a car. It is like the knights of old who had to 
be able to ride, wield a sword and play the lute. At my Utopian 
film academy I would have students do athletic things with real 
physical contact, like boxing, something that would teach them to 
be unafraid. I would have a loft with a lot of space where in one 
corner there would be a boxing ring. Students would train every 
evening from 8 to 10 with a boxing instructor: sparring, somer- 
saults (backwards and forwards), juggling, magic card tricks. 


Whether or not you would be a filmmaker by the end I do not 
know, but at least you would come out as an athlete. My film 
school would allow young people who want to make films to 
experience a certain climate of excitement of the mind. This is 
what ultimately creates films and nothing else. It is not technicians 
that film schools should be producing, but people with a real agi- 
tation of mind. People with spirit, with a burning flame within 

In a way Herakles seems to be about the strongman, a figure that 
seems to resonate throughout your life and work. 

I have always felt a close affinity to strongmen and my most recent 
film Invincible has one as its main character. For me, 'strongman' 
is a word that reverberates beyond mere physical abilities. It 
encompasses intellectual strength, independence of mind, confi- 
dence, self-reliance and maybe even a kind of innocence. All these 
things are clearly an important part of Zishe Breitbart's inner 
strength in Invincible. I am also very careful to make a distinction 
between strongmen and bodybuilders. I detest the cult of body- 
building, something I feel is a gross deviation. My fascination with 
strongmen probably stems from my childhood heroes when I lived 
in Sachrang. 

One of them was an old farmhand called Sturm Sepp ['Stormin' 
Joe']. I think he must have been about eighty years old and was 
over six feet tall, though you could not tell because he was always 
bent over. He was a strange, almost biblical, figure with a big full 
beard and a long pipe in his mouth. He was always silent; we 
never got him to say so much as a word about himself, or indeed 
to utter an5^hing, even though we would always try to annoy him 
when he was out mowing in the field. As kids we all thought 
Sturm Sepp had at one time been incredibly strong, in fact so 
strong that once when his mule collapsed as it was pulling tree 
trunks down the mountain, Sepp himself had loaded several 
enormous trunks on his shoulder and carried them down single- 
handed. And ever since, as a consequence of this feat of strength, 
he had been bent over at the waist. The legend also circulated 
among us that during the First World War he had single-handedly 
taken a whole squad of French soldiers prisoner, twenty-four men 


in all. The story went that he had been so quick, running round 
and round the hills so rapidly and popping up again and again in 
different places, that the French, who were encamped in a small 
hollow down in the valley, must have thought they were sur- 
rounded by a massive detachment of Germans. I can still picture 
the scene in my mind. 

My other childhood hero was Siegel Hans. He was a young 
lumberjack, a really brave, daring young chap who had incredible 
rippling Mr Universe muscles and who was the first villager to get 
a motorbike. We truly revered and admired him. Once, when the 
milk lorry broke through the wooden bridge, they fetched him to 
help and he climbed down into the stream, took off his shirt, 
revealing his bulging muscles for all to see, and tried to heave the 
lorry back up again with his bare hands. It could not be done, of 
course, because it weighed seven to eight tonnes. But the very fact 
that he climbed down into the stream and even attempted it was 
enough to inspire in us an awe that I cannot really comprehend 

The local farmer called Beni was also a very strong guy and for 
a couple of years Siegel Hans would always be challenging him to 
a fight. But Beni never wanted to and the two of them would just 
sit opposite each other in the pub with beer mugs in their hands 
just staring at each other, just like in that scene in Heart of Glass. 
Finally, one day a fight erupted and the whole village cheered 
them on. 'We gotta know who is the strongest in the village!' 
everyone shouted. Soon it was very obvious that Siegel Hans was 
the strongest man in the village. Siegel Hans happened to be 
involved in the biggest smuggling operation of the time too. A 
whole load of coffee had been brought across the border with the 
collusion of customs officers. Unfortunately they were busted, 
but when the cops came for Siegel Hans at night he leapt out of a 
window of his house and fled with his trumpet straight up the 
nearest mountain, the Geigelstein. Once he had reached the 
summit he started to blow on his trumpet, and the customs men 
and police set off in pursuit. But when they eventually arrived at 
the peak, suddenly they heard Siegel Hans blowing his trumpet 
from the mountain-top opposite. And so it went on, to and fro, I 
think for about twelve days in all. The whole village revered him 
for this, went into positively religious ecstasies over him, and we 


kids - I for one, at least - gained a model for life. I think in the 
end he gave himself up. At the time I remember thinking to myself 
that in order to evade the police for so long, he had actually run 
around the entire German border, thus evading the police down 
in the valley. Just like when you shoot a bullet from a very pow- 
erful rifle it ultimately will hit you in your own back because it 
travels around the world and orbits the planet. 

You were only nineteen when you made Herakles? 

I started very young. Soon after finishing Herakles I won the Carl 
Meyer awardi° for my screenplay. Signs of Life. It sounds ridicu- 
lous how I behaved at the time, but I was so convinced of myself 
and my abilities. The jury held its session in Munich, and when a 
jury member rang at my door after midnight and told me that I 
had won the award - worth 10,000 Deutschmarks - I looked at 
him and said, 'You do not have to wake me past midnight to tell 
me that. I knew it anyway!' The award was a real step forward, 
even though the film would not be made for a few years. At the 
time I definitely felt that the award gave me real momentum and 
would carry me for maybe a decade. 

My next film, also shot in 35 mm, was The Unprecedented 
Defence of the Fortress Deutschkreuz which was financed by the 
money I got from the screenplay award. The four actors got some- 
thing, but the basic expenses were for the raw stock and the lab 
fees. It is a short film about a group of young men protecting an 
abandoned castle from imaginary attackers. It is the same kind of 
theme that I worked with in Signs of Life a few years later. People 
think they are being besieged, yet there is actually no enemy and 
they are left in the lurch. 

There was a film you made in between Herakles and The Unprece- 
dented Defence of the Fortress Deutschkreuz, wasn't there? 

You are speaking about Game in the Sand, which was certainly 
more of a proper film than Herakles, but actually only three or four 
people have ever seen it as I was careful to take it out of circulation 
almost immediately after finishing it. It is the one film that I will 
never publicize in my lifetime. I might even destroy the negative 
before I die. It is about four children and a rooster, but it is hard to 


speak about it because during the shooting I had the feehng that 
things were moving out of control. 

You do have a reputation as a risk-taker, someone who goes to 
extremes. Some people are convinced that you'd even risk the lives 
of people in order to make your films. 

Physicists, experimenting on materials, discover things about a 
particular metal alloy when they subject it to extreme heat, 
extreme pressure or extreme radiation and the like. I think that, 
put under extreme pressure, people give you many more insights 
into their innermost being and tell us about who we really are. 
But I would not be sitting here talking to you if I ever risked the 
life of anyone in order to make a film. I have never gone out seek- 
ing inhospitable terrain to film in and I have never taken idiotic 
risks, nor would I ever do so. I do not deny that - like every film- 
maker - sometimes I do have to take mild risks, but only in a 
very calculated and professional way. I would always make sure 
that what we were doing put us firmly on the safe side, and 
what's more, generally it was me who always tested the waters. 
Perhaps mountaineers are motivated to seek out the most diffi- 
cult routes, but that does not apply to me. As a filmmaker such 
an attitude would be wholly unprofessional and irresponsible. 
Being my own producer means, financially speaking, it is in my 
interests to work as efficiently as possible, and the idea that I am 
always looking for special difficulties during shooting could not 
be further from the truth. It has never been my preference to 
make things more difficult than they already are. The reason 
Fitzcarraldo took so long to make had nothing to do with the 
risks I had taken or the safety of the actors. The problems were 
natural disasters and, in fact, once we started shooting with 
Kinski, we actually managed to wrap principal photography 
ahead of schedule. 

Some years ago when I was directing an opera, I wanted to have 
a stuntman crashing down from the rigging twenty-two metres 
above the stage, as if a mountain climber had fallen from a rock 
face. The problem was that he had to hit a very narrow space: an 
opening in the floor with a large cushion underneath. It was 
proving to be very difficult to hit this spot from such a height. 


We could not afford a stuntman, and as nobody wanted to take 
responsibility of testing this fall, I had myself hoisted up. From an 
altitude of about thirty-five feet I jumped down and got severe 
whiplash in my neck. I realized that it was just ridiculous to try 
from fifty feet, and immediately scrapped the whole idea of the 

Why did it take so long to get Signs of Life into production? 
Even after shooting the three early shorts and winning the prize 
for the screenplay of Signs of Life, I sensed that at the age of 
twenty-two no one would help me finance the film, so I decided to 
accept a scholarship to study in the United States. It pretty much 
gave me free choice about where to go. I did not want to go some- 
where overly fancy and so I chose Pittsburgh, a place where there 
were real working people and steel mills. But by the time I arrived 
in the early 1960s the city was already heavily in decline. The steel 
mills were shutting down and life for many people was falling 
apart. Only three days after I arrived I returned my scholarship 
and as such ended up with no money, no host family and no pas- 
sage back home. 

I did not know there was such a difference in quality between 
American universities, and felt that the one I had chosen was a bad 
place for me to be. So I ended up penniless and was pushed around 
from place to place for weeks until finally I was picked up on a 
country road by the Franklin family. The mother had six children 
between seventeen and twenty-seven, her husband had died and 
there was a ninety-three-year-old grandmother. I owe them so 
much, this wonderful, crazy family who put me up in an attic 
where I lived for six months. Of course I needed to earn some 
money, so I started to work on a project that was part of a series of 
films for NASA. That I made films for NASA always appears on 
those five-line biographies, and even if it is somehow true, it is 
completely irrelevant. I did have access to certain restricted areas 
and was able to talk to many of the scientists, but just before I was 
about to start work on the film they ran a security check and dis- 
covered I had no permit to stay in the country unless I was a stu- 
dent. I had violated my visa status and very soon afterwards was 
summoned to the immigration office in Pittsburgh. 


It was evident I was about to be expelled from the country and 
shipped back to Germany, so I took a rusty old Volkswagen and 
went to New York during a very bitter winter. I lived in the car for 
some time, even though its floor was rusted right through and I 
had a cast on my leg at the time because I had broken it quite 
badly afl:er jumping out of a window. It was winter and there were 
snow storms, and because I could not move my toes properly they 
nearly froze. I needed to wrap wads of newspaper around the foot 
in the cast to make sure I did not lose the immobilized toes 
through frostbite. And at night, when it gets cold, say at 3 or 4 
a.m., the homeless of New York-who live almost like Neanderthal 
men - come and gather together on some empty, utterly desolate 
street and stand over fires they have kindled in the metal rubbish 
bins without speaking a word. Eventually I just cut the whole cast 
off with a pair of poultry shears and fled across the border into 

And that's where you learned Spanish? 

And where I also developed this real fascination and love I have for 
Latin America. Of course, while I was there I had to make a living 
and discovered that there was a weak spot on the border between 
the twin cities of Reynosa in Mexico and McAllen in Texas. There 
was a lot of daily commuting between these towns, Mexicans 
working in McAllen during the day and returning at night. Tens of 
thousands each morning who all had special stickers on their 
windshields that would allow them to pass virtually free through 
the border. I stole one of those stickers and bought some television 
sets for people who wanted them down in Mexico where they were 
very expensive. One time a rich ranchero asked me to buy him a 
silver colt pistol which he was not able to find in Mexico, so I 
bought one and took it down there for him. I made fairly good 
money on all these things. From this came the legend that I was a 
gun runner. 

Then I spent a couple of weekends as a rodeo rider in charreiadas. 
The way it worked was that they would have three cowboys or 
charros in the ring who would catch the bulls, usually very fast 
animals. They would use lassos to bring the bull to the ground and 
then tie a rope around its chest. You have to squat on the animal 


and grab the rope while he is on the ground. They release him and 
immediately he explodes in rage. I have seen bulls jumping clear 
over a six-foot stone wall. Every single week I was injured and one 
time had to fix up my bad ankle one time with two rulers I got 
from some schoolkids. I could not even ride a horse, something 
that soon became patently clear to the spectators, so I appeared 
under the name El Alamein, which after Stalingrad was the biggest 
defeat of the German forces in the Second World War. They all just 
loved to cheer the idiot on! 

One time I was in the ring with a bull who got on his feet and 
just stood there staring at me. I screamed, 'Burro! You donkey!' 
I can still hear the cheers of the young women in the crowd. Of 
course, it was pretty angry at me and tried to pin me to the stone 
wall. I caught my leg between the animal and the wall, and sus- 
tained an injury that was so bad I quit the job there and then. 
Today it all sounds quite funny and I do see it with a certain 
humour, but my time down there was quite banal and partially 
miserable too. It was 'pura vida' as the Mexicans say, 'pure life'. 
But I thank God on my knees that after America I did not go 
straight back to Germany. 

Where did you go after leaving Mexico? 

I travelled around Europe for another few months and only then 
returned to Germany, where I started pre-production on Signs of 
Life almost immediately. Still nobody took me seriously, even 
after the Carl Mayer Award and my short films which had been 
shown at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival and places like that. 
At that time Munich was very much the cultural centre of Ger- 
many, so I made contact with other filmmakers. This is when I 
first met Volker Schlondorffi' who was about to make his first 
film. Young Torless. He wanted to see who was doing the same 
kind of thing and whether we could help each other. He has been 
helpful ever since, the most loyal of all the friends I have among 
filmmakers, even though his films are so different to mine. Rainer 
Werner Fassbinder^^^ was also around. One evening he rang at my 
door - it must have been around 1968 - and asked me to produce 
his films. At that point he had made two interesting shorts 
which he showed to me. I said to him, 'Listen, Rainer, do it like me, 


for God's sake. You must produce your own stuff, be independ- 
ent.' And he did. He looked like a real peasant and I immediately 
sensed he had something very forceful about him which I liked 
very much. 

Many of your films have been made outside of Germany. Yet even 
a film like Fitzcarraldo, filmed in the Amazon in Peru, was called 
'Bavaria in the jungle'. You haven't lived in Germany for many 
years, but do you feel you've retained your German sensibilities? 
And what does it mean to be Bavarian? 

It does not matter where the films were physically filmed. Geo- 
graphically, I have travelled widely, but I do feel that all my films 
are not only very German, they are explicitly Bavarian. There is 
a different culture down in Bavaria. It is an area that, historically, 
has never considered itself part of Germany. My first language 
was Bavarian and it was a real culture shock for me when for 
about a year I went to school in Swabia where the kids spoke a 
different language. I was teased and mocked by the kids who 
would imitate my thick accent; at the age of eleven I had to learn 
Hochdeutsch which was a painful experience for me. Irish writ- 
ers write in English, but they are Irish. I might write in German, 
but I am very much a Bavarian. Being Bavarian means as much 
as it means to be Scottish in the United Kingdom. Like Scots, 
Bavarians are very hard-drinking, hard-fighting, very warm 
hearted, very imaginative. The most imaginative Bavarian of all 
was King Ludwig 11.^3 He was totally mad and built all those cas- 
tles that are so full of this quintessentially Bavarian dreaminess 
and exuberance. I always felt that he would have been the only 
one who could have done a film like Fitzcarraldo, apart from me. 
You see this kind of baroque imagination in Fassbinder's films, 
the kind of unstoppable and ferocious creativity he had. Like his 
work, my films are not thin-blooded ideological constructs that 
we saw a lot of in German cinema in the 1970s. Too many Ger- 
man films of that era were thin gargling water instead of real 
thick stout. 

You haven't lived in Bavaria for quite some time. Is there anything 
you miss about the place? 


In an interview a few years ago Edgar Reitz asked me what my 
favourite season is. I said the fall, even though quite often I am in 
places where there are no seasons. I have lived in California for 
some years now and I miss the changing seasons more than any- 
thing else. I may just be a very simply woven animal who needs 
different seasons. Dammit, now you've got me thinking about 
warm Bavarian pretzels coming right out of the oven with some 
good butter and a thick beer. You just cannot live without things 
like that. This is what being Bavarian is really all about. 

Tell me about your screenplays which are formatted very differ- 
ently from the average screenplay. 

For many years I have thought of my screenplays - the early ones 
of which are written in prose with very little dialogue - as repre- 
senting something like a new form of literature. I do not really 
care much about the very physical form of my writing, but have 
always felt that if I had to write this stuff down then at least I 
could attempt something new with the form. It is connected to the 
fact that I have tried to give my screenplays a life independent 
from the films they help give birth to and not make them mere 
cookbooks with recipes that need to be followed during a film's 
production. This is why my screenplays have always been pub- 
lished without photos incorporated into the text, because I did 
not want to have any reference made to the films themselves. For 
me the screenplays have always been pieces of literature that 
stand alone. 

Did you get any help from the system of film subsidy in Germany 
at the time? Many young German filmmakers were able to make 
their first films relatively easily thanks to the government's wide- 
ranging policies on film production. 

For a time West Germany had probably the most subsidized film 
industry in Europe, if not the world. But it was never that easy to 
make films in Germany. Back when we were all starting out in the 
1960s, Alexander Klugei^ was probably the single most important 
figure when it came to securing the financial assistance we needed 
for film production; I have always felt that he was very much the 
spiritual and ideological force behind German film in the late 


1960s. '5 Apparently he was the one who single-handedly wrote 
rhe Oberhausen Manifesto, ' even though a couple of dozen other 
filmmakers signed it. Kluge also pushed through the film-subsidy 
legislation which led to television stations across Germany agree- 
ing to co-produce the work of young filmmakers. It also meant 
that films could not be screened on television for at least two years 
after being theatrically released. 

There was an organization called Kuratorium junger deutscher 
film,'7 devised by filmmakers themselves, which gave a first start 
to many young German filmmakers. You had to submit your 
scripts to them and wait and see if your film would be one of the 
few they decided to give money to. It was not a lot of money - 
about 300,000 DM for each film - and you had to have the rest of 
the funding in place before they accepted your application. But 
even though I already had some money to make Signs of Life and 
I felt myself to be an ideal candidate, I was denied Kuratorium 
money for two years. I had made three short films, each of them 
had in some way caught the attention of the media and the film fes- 
tivals, and of course the screenplay for the film had even won the 
award a couple of years earlier. 

Why do you think you were denied the money? 

I think, quite simply, it was because at the time there was nobody 
who had, at the age of twenty-two, produced and directed his own 
full-length feature film. When Signs of Life was finally released, it 
was a total flop with audiences and nobody wanted to distribute 
the film, even though it won the National Film Award^^ [Bundes- 
filmpreis] in Germany, which thankfully meant money for my next 
film. It also won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, so the 
press was up on the film and people knew about it. A newspaper in 
Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt, wrote a full-page article about the 
film, and because of this a cinema invited me to come to a screen- 
ing. I got to the place and only nine people were there. That kind 
of shock is still in my bones. I have always had to struggle - film 
after film - to get audiences' attention in Germany. Let me say 
that this might not be such a bad thing, for I never felt the sub- 
sidy system was the healthiest way to run the film industry in 
West Germany. 


You talk of happiness not being something you are in search of 
that you just don't function in those terms. But clearly your work 
is tremendously important to you. 

I have never been one of those who cares about happiness. Happi- 
ness is a strange notion. I am just not made for it. It has never been 
a goal of mine; I do not think in those terms. It seems to be a goal 
in life for many people, but I have no goals in life. I suspect I am 
after something else. 

Can you articulate what that is? 

To give my existence some sort of a meaning. It is a very simplified 
answer, I know, but whether I am happy or not does not count that 
much. I have always enjoyed my work. Maybe enjoying is not the 
right word: I have always loved it. It means a lot to me that I have 
the privilege of working in this profession, even though I have 
struggled to make my films the way I really wanted to, and get 
them as close to the vision I have been seeking. Of course, I am 
very aware that there are so many people out there who have good 
ideas and who are aspiring filmmakers, and who never find a 
foothold within the system. Inevitably they fail, and that is sad. 
But like I said, at the age of fourteen, once I realized that for me 
filmmaking was a duty, then I really had no choice but to push on 
with my projects. 

One aspect of who I am that might be important is the commu- 
nication defect I have had since a young child. I am someone who 
takes ever}1:hing very literally. I simply do not understand irony, a 
defect I have had ever since I was able to think independently. Let 
me explain by telling a story. A few weeks ago I received a phone 
call at my apartment from a painter who lives just down the street 
from me. He tells me he wants to sell me his paintings, and because 
I live in the same neighbourhood, he says he wants to give me a 
good deal on his work. He starts to argue with me, saying I can 
have this painting for only ten dollars or even less. I try to get him 
off the phone, saying, 'Sir, I am sorry but I do not have paintings in 
my apartment. I have only maps on my walls. Sometimes photos, 
but I would never have a painted picture on my wall, no matter 
who made it.' And he kept on and on until all of a sudden he starts 
to laugh. I think: I know this laughter. And he did not change his 


voice one bit when the painter announced that it was my Mend, 
Harmony Korine.'^ 

In fact, something much worse happened years ago when I got a 
call from the Ministry of the Interior right after it was announced 
that I was to receive the National Film Award for Signs of Life. This 
was fantastic news because it meant 300,000 DM for my next 
production and, of course, a trophy and a handshake at the Min- 
istry of the Interior. It was the minister's personal assistant who 
called me. 'Are you Werner Herzog? The minister would like to 
have a conversation.' I am connected to the minister, who starts 
stuttering and says, 'Ah well, Mr Herzog. We have publicized the 
news that you have won the Bundesfilmpreis but, ahem, I have to 
personally take the matter in hand and humbly apologize. I regret 
to say that in reality it was not you who won the award, rather 
someone else.' I remained stunned yet composed and replied, 'Sir, 
how could this have happened? You as Minister of the Interior are 
responsible for many things, including internal security and the 
safety of our borders. In what kind of a state is your house? This 
letter I have has not only your signature, it has two more signatures. 
I accept this, but how could it have happened?' It went on like this 
for ten minutes when suddenly the minister starts to scream with 
laughter so hard that I recognize the voice of my friend Florian 
Fricke. 'Florian, it's you, you bastard.' When he called as the per- 
sonal assistant he did not change his voice, but I took them as two 
different people. That is how bad my communication defect is. I am 
just a complete fool. There are things in language that are common 
to almost everyone, but that are utterly lost on me. 
And compared to other filmmakers - particularly the French, 
who are able sit around their cafes waxing eloquent about their 
work - I am like a Bavarian bullfrog just squatting there, brood- 
ing. I have never been capable of discussing art with people. I just 
cannot cope with irony. The French love to play with their words 
and to master French is to be a master of irony. Technically, I am 
able to speak the language - I know the words and verbs - but will 
do so only when I am really forced to. Only twice in my life has 
this happened: one time when I was under arrest in Africa, sur- 
rounded by really raucous and drunken soldiers who pointed a 
rifle at my head, another at my heart and a third at my balls. I 
tried to explain who I was and the commander screamed at me: 


'On parle que le frangais icU' The second occasion was when we 
were making La Soufriere on Guadeloupe, which is French-speak- 
ing, although 95 per cent of the population is purely African. The 
man we found asleep under the tree who had refused to be evacu- 
ated from the island when it was just about to explode spoke Cre- 
ole French. I woke him up and we spoke in French on camera. So 
under extreme force I will speak the language, only when there is a 
real necessity. Otherwise I avoid it. 

But though you might not understand irony, you do have a sense of 
humour, don't you? 

Of course I do. There is a big difference between irony and humour. 
I can understand humour and laugh at jokes even if I am not very- 
good at telling them myself. But when it comes to irony, clearly I 
do have a serious and obvious defect. 

An endearing defect though. 

Not if you saw me sitting in a Parisian cafe. 


1 The Schutzstqffel started out as Hitler's personal bodyguard in 192.5 
and continued to grow until the end of the war in 1945, absorbing 
such organizations as the Waffen SS (the SS army formed in 1939) and 
the Totenkopfverbande (the Death's Head concentration camp guards). 

2 Underground SS-led guerrilla groups formed in 1945 as last-gasp 
resistance against Alhed forces in Germany. 

3 There were several films shot amongst the city ruins of Germany, 
part of an inevitably short-lived wave of filmmaking in the immediate 
post-war era called the Triimmerfilme, 'rubble films'. See Robert R. 
Shandley's Rubble Films: German Cinema in the Shadow of the 
Third Reich (Temple University Press, 2001). 

4 Rosenheim (birthplace of Hermann Goring) burned on the night of 
18 April 1945, less than two weeks before Hitler killed himself in 
Berlin. Herzog was about two and half years old. That evening 148 
American B-17S dropped 431.2 tonnes of bombs on the marshalling 
yards of the town in an attempt to destroy enemy transport systems. 
Rosenheim was in fact the intended target of this mission. 

5 See Chapter 5. 

6 P. Adams Sitney (b. 1944, USA) is a film historian currently at 
Princeton University, author of The Visionary Film: The American 


Avant-Garde 1943-1978 (Oxford University Press, 1979). From 
Christmas 1963 to August 1964 Sitney was curator of the Inter- 
national Exposition of the American Independent Film, which trav- 
elled to several cities including Munich (January 1964), Amsterdam, 
Stockholm, Paris, London and Vienna. The trip was organized by 
New York-based Lithuanian filmmaker and curator Jonas Mekas, 
who established and still runs America's leading avant-garde cinema. 
Anthology Film Archives in New York. 

7 Stan Brakhage (b. 1933, USA) is one of America's most important 
avant-garde filmmakers and writers, and has taught for many years 
at the University of Denver, Colorado. His best-known work is Dog 
Star Man (1961-4). See also his book Film at Wit's End: Eight 
Avant-garde Filmmakers (Documentext, 1989). 

8 Kenneth Anger (b. 1927, USA) is the director of the infamous land- 
mark work in gay cinema, Scorpio Rising (1964), and the author of 
the equally infamous book Hollywood Babylon (French edition pub- 
lished 1959, English edition 1975). See BiU Landis's biography Anger 
(Harper Collins, 1995)- 

9 'Rebellen in Amerika', Filmstudio, May 1964. 

10 Named after the Austrian-born scriptwriter of films such as The 
Cabinet of Dr Caligari (Wiene, 1920), The Last Laugh (Mumau, 
1924) and Sunrise (Murnau, 1927). 

llVolker Schlondorff (b. 1939, Germany) directed one of the first inter- 
nationally acclaimed works of New German Cinema, Young Torless 
(1966), and went on to make The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum 
(1975) and The Tin Drum (1980), which won the Oscar for Best 
Foreign Film. 

12 Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1945-82, Germany) was one of the lead- 
ing lights of the New German Wave. In a period of only sixteen years 
he wrote and directed over thirty feature films, including The Bitter 
Tears ofPetra von Kant (1972) and Fear Eats the Soul (1974), pi™ 
numerous plays and the television mini-series Berlin-Alexanderplatz 
(1980). See Ronald Hayman's Fassbinder (Simon and Schuster, 1984) 
and The Anarchy o f the Imagination: interviews. Essays and Notes of 
Rainer Werner Fassbinder (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992), 
edited by Michael Toteberg and Leo A. Lensing. 

13 King Ludwig II, who ruled Bavaria from 1864 to 1886, was known 
as the 'fairy-tale king'. Only eighteen when he assumed power, Lud- 
wig preferred to live in his own fantasy world and in 1868 started 
building a series of beautiful castles at the foothills of the Bavarian 
Alps (today very popular tourist attractions). After the German 
Empire conquered Bavaria, he was eventually declared insane, in part 
because he was spending so much money on these seemingly useless 
buildings, and died soon afterwards in mysterious circumstances. 


14 Alexander Kluge (b. 1932, Germany), long considered the 'father' of 
New German Cinema, was a law student and writer before working 
as Fritz Lang's assistant. He co-wrote the Oberhausen Manifesto (see 
footnote 16) and established the Institut fur Filmgestaltung in Ulm in 
the wake of the German filmmakers' demands expressed in the mani- 
festo. His legal background meant he was at the forefront of film- 
makers' demands for a series of new state and federal government 
film-production subsidies, as well as new channels of production and 
distribution with state television stations. His films include Brutality 
in Stone (i960) and Yesterday Girl (1966). In 1962, along with 
Edgar Reitz, he established the first film school in West Germany, the 
Institut fiir Filmgestaltung. The Deutsche FUm und Fernsehen- 
akademie in Berlin (who rejected Fassbinder's application to study 
there) followed in 1966. 

15 This is the New German Cinema, or New German Wave, the name 
given to a very disparate group of filmmakers from West Germany. 
The era of New German Cinema can probably be most easily demar- 
cated by the working life of director Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1966 
to 1982). 

16 The Oberhausen Manifesto, signed by two dozen German film- 
makers on 28 February 1962 at the Oberhausen Short Film Festival, 
proclaimed, 'The old film is dead. We believe in the new one,' and 
that this 'new film' needed 'new freedoms. Freedom from the conven- 
tions of the established industry. Freedom from the outside influence 
of commercial partners. Freedom from the control of special interest 
groups. We have concrete intellectual, formal, and economic con- 
ceptions about the production of the new German film. We are as a 
collective prepared to take economic risks.' The manifesto was an 
attempt by young German filmmakers to combat the post-war domi- 
nation of their country's film markets by the United States, something 
that meant indigenous film production was being steadily decimated. 
In the wake of Oberhausen came a whole slew of federal projects to 
support film production, distribution, study and archiving in West 
Germany. See West German Filmmakers on Film: Visions and Voices, 
edited by Eric Rentschler (Holmes and Meier, 1988), p. z, for the 
complete Oberhausen Manifesto, and Chapter One of Thomas 
Elsaesser's New German Cinema (Rutgers University Press, 1989) for 
a summary of the manifesto's impact on film in West Germany. 

17 The Kuratorium was 'explicitly charged with putting the proposals 
of the Oberhausen Manifesto into practice' (Elsaesser, 1989, p. zz) 
by advancing 'German film-making and stimulate a renewal of the 
German film in a manner exclusively and directly beneficial to the 
community'. It was non-profit-making and was funded by the 
Ministry of the Interior. Submitted scripts were read by young film 


critics - not bureaucrats - and between 1965 and 1968 the Kurato- 
rium assisted in the financing of twenty films. 

18 Awarded annually by the Federal Ministry of the Interior. 

19 Harmony Korine (b. 1974, USA). Writer (Kids) and director 
(Gummo, Julien donkey-boy). 


2 . Blasphemy and Mirages 

Around the time of your first feature, Signs of Life, what became 
known as the New German Cinema was born. By 1969 Fasshinder 
had made his first few films, including Love Is Colder than Death, 
Schlondorff had made Young Torless and Wenders' had produced 
his first shorts. Did you feel that you were part of an important 
new movement? 

The so-called New German Cinema really did not have much 
significance for me because I started making films before even the 
Oberhausen Manifesto was written. I did not take part in the man- 
ifesto and did not even know they were writing it. Though I did 
show films at the film festival at Oberhausen, I was never part of 
that group. Basically, it was a coincidence that I belonged to the 
first generation of post-war Germans, many of whom attempted to 
articulate themselves in new ways cinematically, not difficult when 
we think of German cinema in the 19503.^ Remember, by 1968 I 
had already produced several films and from the very earliest 
days spent time outside of Germany, so I could never realistically 
be seen as a spokesman for New German Cinema. Throughout the 
key decade of New German Cinema - the 1970s - I was making 
films all over the world. What's more, I feel I have made some of 
my most important works in the 1980s and 90s and into this new 
millennium, and though many of my recent films are not as well 
known, many are better than my early works. For me the lifespan 
and history of the New German Film has no relevance to what I 
am doing these days. 

I certainly never saw the New German Cinema as a coherent 


movement, artistically or ideologically, even though what was hap- 
pening in Germany was certainly an interesting development in 
European cinema. But there were other movements of equal 
importance, like Cine Novo in Brazil with directors like Ruy 
Guerras and Glauber Rocha.4 But what was very clear to my 
generation was that by the early 1960s we German filmmakers 
desperately needed to grow up and take our destiny into our own 
hands, and this is exactly what we did. It is this which united 
German filmmakers in the late 1960s, not the films themselves, 
and certainly not the themes of our work. 

There were actually a couple of waves of filmmakers. The first 
was the Oberhausen Manifesto people, though most disappeared 
completely. I think Kluge and Reitz are probably the best known 
out of the two dozen filmmakers who signed it. The people in 
this first wave were generally older than people like Fassbinder, 
Wenders and myself. Then there was the second wave, and I was 
part of the early second wave. Actually Fassbinder and Wenders 
really came a little bit later; they are almost the third wave. Of 
course, there were others who came after us with some very fine 
films, but they never really seemed to persevere or else they 
started to work exclusively in television where there was always 
more money. 

Did it take a while for the rest of the world to catch on to what was 
happening in German cinema? 

You might even say that by the time most people realized there was 
good work being done in Germany, the New German Wave was 
subsiding. But for a short time a handful of German filmmakers 
certainly found it much easier to screen their films internationally, 
though by no means everyone. 

It is not easy to say when German writers and painters - and 
especially filmmakers - will be able to take their place fully and 
freely in international culture. Many years ago when I was in 
America I pulled up to a gas station in the deep south, I think it 
was Mississippi. My car had number plates from Pennsylvania 
and the guy at the pump called me a Yankee and flatly refused to 
sell me any gas. A century after the end of the Civil War and for 
some in the south the hatred still remains. I know that many 


people feel the same way about Germany today and the slow pace 
of collective consciousness is maybe one reason why recent Ger- 
man filmmakers have had such a hard time exhibiting their films 
outside of their country. After the war there were two jobs of 
reconstruction: the cities had to be rebuilt physically, but just as 
important was the necessity of rebuilding Germany's legitimacy as 
a civilized nation again. This is still a struggle. Half a century on 
and Germany is still not completely there. Even though I have not 
lived in Germany for some years, it is very clear that today it is 
not a country known for its cinema. I feel there is a profound lack 
of vision, courage and innovation in German cinema today. Many 
young filmmakers emerge from film school, make one film, 
maybe a second and then disappear. They try too hard to emulate 
Holljwood. It is almost as if I have to make films for several 
generations at once. 

You could hardly proclaim German cinema to be in the dark ages. 
There doesn't seem to be that much happening in a country like 
Italy either these days. 

That is probably true, and of course Germany has never been 
known as a nation of cinema-goers. It is a graveyard over there. In 
this respect the French and Italians were always much more 
advanced. And what I found problematic was that even during the 
peak years in the 1970s it never really occurred to most German 
filmmakers that they should be tr3dng to reach international audi- 
ences. German films in the 1960s and 1970s - to say nothing of 
what was being produced in the 1950s - were so impossibly 
provincial that it was difficult to export them internationally. No 
one outside of the country would have ever wanted to see most of 
what was being produced, and this is one reason why I have always 
looked further than our national borders. It is also one reason why 
I was not so bothered about how my films were received in Ger- 
many. Or rather, it is why I was very hopeful that they would be 
well received overseas. It was very gratifying to see that Aguirre, the 
Wrath of God and The Enigma ofKaspar Hauser could be screened 
to audiences at repertory cinemas in London or to native Indians in 
Peru and be understood and appreciated. 


In the 19705 you were out of the country filming probably more 
than most other German directors. Did you have any extensive 
contact with other West German filmmakers at the time? What 
about the distribution company Filmverlag derAutoren? 

I was never directly involved with Filmverlag.s I was invited to be 
a part of the organization, but I said no. The concept was certainly 
good: filmmakers who had no access to distribution companies 
would create their own distribution company. Outside of Ger- 
many distributors were extremely choosy and only a tiny fraction 
of what was being produced was ever seen internationally. Sure, 
you could see some Fassbinder and Wenders, maybe some Kluge, 
but never anything of Achternbusch'' or Schroeter.7 But I did not 
like the concoction of personalities at Filmverlag, plus there was 
something disparate about it that did not feel quite right to me. 
Maybe if it had been just Fassbinder and me and a couple of oth- 
ers then I would have trusted it, but there were some people 
involved who had an agenda and who seemed very disunited in 
their work. Later on they did take over some of my early films and 
distributed them. 

But I suspect I was probably something of an outsider when it 
came to dealings with other German directors. When I would 
meet Fassbinder, some of his entourage thought that I was gay 
because we really liked each other and he would hug me dearly. 
Because he was so unruly, a sweaty, grunting wild boar crashing 
through the underbrush, the media mistakenly labeled him a 
world revolutionary. When I was in pre-production of Aguirre in 
Peru I took two of his films down there along with some of my 
own and held a mini-retrospective. I think I did a live translation 
and he kind of liked me for things like that. But often when we 
would meet there was nothing to say to each other except some- 
thing like, T like your tie.' When it came to his films I had the 
feeling that two or three films in a row would not be so good - 
he released them so quickly, sometimes five films a year - and I 
would almost lose heart. And then all of a sudden he would come 
out with a great one. I had to keep on telling myself, 'Never lose 
faith in the man.' 

I like Wim Wenders very much. He has been a good comrade 
and companion and even though we meet very intermittently, it is 


good to know that there is someone else out there ploughing a 
similar furrow to my own. 

The television system in Germany seemed to play a major role in 
reinvig orating the country's film industry in the 1970s. 

The FihnlFernseken Abkommen [Film/Television Agreement) opened 
up opportunities for co-productions with the networks because 
the rule was that films that opened in cinemas could not be 
screened on television for at least two years. For Aguirre, not hav- 
ing any money left, I sold the television rights and they showed it 
on television the very same evening it was released in the cinemas. 
Of course, it was not a box-office smash in Germany. For Kaspar 
Hauser I made sure that the contract stipulated there would be this 
two-year delay between the cinema release and the film's premiere 
on German television.^ 

How do you feel about 'customizing' your films to fit television 

It is a question of discipline, and if I sensed that a format of 
exactly fifty-nine minutes and thirty seconds just would not be 
adequate, I would probably not make the film for television. In 
some cases, like Little Dieter Needs to Fly, I had to deliver a film 
that was exactly forty-four minutes and thirty seconds, and so I 
decided to produce the film for the TV network knowing that it 
would be only a shorthand version of the film. The real film is 
actually over eighty minutes long. Of course, most people saw the 
film in its truncated version on television. I did not mind chang- 
ing the title to Escape from Laos for the TV version because 
essentially it is a different film. When I made The Great Ecstasy 
of Woodcarver Steiner it was exactly an hour long. But I wanted 
to have the film televised in Germany so I said to them, 'Let me 
try to cut it dovm to forty-five minutes.' 'If you do that,' the net- 
work said, 'please try to make it forty-four minutes and ten seconds 
long, because we absolutely need another fifty seconds for station 
identification and the introduction for the film.' So I went back 
to the film and I made it exactly forty-four minutes and ten sec- 
onds long. In doing this, I did not feel I had compromised my 
vision because I consider filmmaking a craft, and as a craftsman 


I have to be very aware of the way my work is received by audi- 

Unfortunately the situation with the television stations has 
changed a great deal in recent years. The only God that the TV 
networks venerate these days is the ratings figures. That is the 
Golden Calf for them, a development that is certainly not particu- 
larly German. It has to do with developments in worldwide media 
per se. May I propose a Herzog dictum? those who read own the 
world, and those who watch television lose it. 

There's always been a certain amount of antagonism between you 
and the German critics. Why do you think your films have never 
been as well received in your home country as they have in Eng- 
land, France and America? 

And Algeria or Moscow or Argentina. And we are talking about 
both critics and audiences here. Germany is just not a country of 
cinema-goers. It has always been a nation of television viewers. 
The Germans have never liked their poets, not while they are 
alive anyway. It is an old tradition which goes back centuries. 
Eventually there is a chance, years after you are dead, that you 
will be accepted, and maybe this will be the fate of my work. 
Compare this to a place like Ireland. I once stayed at a tiny guest- 
house in Ballinskelligs. The landlady asked me what I did, and off 
the top of my head -i don't know why - I said, T am a poet.' She 
opened the doors wide and gave me the room for half price. At 
home they would have thrown me out into the street. And in 
Iceland there exists the Codex Regius, the showpiece of antique 
literature like the Dead Sea Scrolls in Israel or perhaps the 
Nibelungenlied in Germany. It was finally returned to Iceland by 
the Danes after 300 years. Half the Icelandic population awaited 
this little wrinkled parchment book, drinking, singing and cele- 
brating for five days. When the islanders discovered that, upon 
my special request, I had held the actual manuscript in my very 
hands, I was treated like a king.i" Something like this is just not 
conceivable in Germany. Around the time of Aguirre I was at a 
press conference at Cannes talking about the renaissance of Ger- 
man film. There was a loud laugh from one comer of the room. 
It was the Germans. 


There is a great insecurity among German audiences, which is 
perhaps understandable as Germany was the cause of the two 
biggest catastrophes of humanity of the past hundred years. This 
has continued to make post-war generations very cautious indeed. 
Whenever somebody sticks his head out too far from any kind of 
obscure or marginal trench - trying in even some small way to 
draw attention to himself or show his work to the world - the rest 
of Germany is immediately suspicious. Such people need to be lev- 
elled down in Germany, where they were very suspicious of 
Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo and Kaspar Hauser. I got very bad reviews 
for those films in Germany. It is somewhat strange for me that only 
very recently has one of my films - My Best Fiend - been truly 
embraced by the German critics and audiences. It really stunned 
me. Maybe it is because I do not live in Germany any longer and 
so am considered a foreigner. 

Signs of Life, inspired by a short story by the German writer Achim 
von Arnim, was your first feature film. The film isn't a straight 
adaptation though. In what ways were you influenced by von 
Amim's writings? 

There were three primary influences that pushed me to write the 
screenplay of Signs of Life. I took only the most basic outline of 
von Arnim's story 'Der Tolle Invalide auf dem Fort Ratonneau'." 
It is a wonderful piece where an old colonel is sitting by the fire- 
place and gets so involved in telling a story that he does not notice 
his wooden leg is on fire. It is the only time, with the exception of 
Woyzeck and Cobra Verde, where a piece of literature triggered a 
screenplay in my mind. What I gather may have been an influence 
on von Arnim himself also weighed heavily on my mind: a news- 
paper report of a real event during the Seven Years' War which I 
stumbled across where a guy became insane and locked himself up 
in a tower. 

But certainly the strongest influences on the film were my travels 
when I was fifteen to Greece, where I spent some time following 
in the footsteps of my paternal grandfather, seeing what he had 
done years before as an archaeologist on the island of Kos. At a 
very young age - he already had a university chair in Classics - he 
just ditched everything, got hold of some spades and set off to 


become an archaeologist. He had done his Ufe's work on the 
island starting around 1906, carrjdng out important excavations. 
Later on he went mad, and it is only as a madman that I really got 
to know him. Whilst in Greece I walked around the mountains of 
Crete where I came across a valley. I had to sit down because I 
was sure I had gone insane. Before me lay 10,000 wdndmills - it 
was like a field of flowers gone mad - turning and turning with 
these tiny squeaking noises. I sat down and pinched myself. T 
have either gone insane or have seen something very significant 
indeed.' Of course, it turned out that the windmills were for real, 
and this central image became a pivotal point of the film, a land- 
scape in complete ecstasy and fantastic madness. J knew as I stood 
there that I would return one day to make a film. Had I never seen 
the windmills, I would not have made the connection between this 
fantastic landscape and the von Amim story, which I read only 
later on. In Signs of Life there are long shots of the incredible 
landscapes of Crete. The opening credits, for example, hold for an 
unusually long time with a single shot of a mountain valley. It 
gives you time to really climb deep inside the landscapes, and for 
them to climb inside you. It shows that these are not just literal 
landscapes you are looking at, but landscapes of the mind too. 

Why did you choose to set the film during the Second World War? 

The film is set during the Nazi occupation of Greece, and 
inevitably some people will want to suggest that the film is some- 
thing like a 'historical drama'. Of course, it is nothing of the sort. 
If I had wanted to make a historical or political point by choosing 
this setting I would have written a speech and stood up with a 
microphone in my hand instead. The historical facts of the occu- 
pation never interested me in this context, and there is absolutely 
nothing in the story that makes any reference whatsoever to the 
Second World War. If a historian were to look at the film he would 
doubtless find many historical falsehoods. For example, when I 
show the soldiers they are almost always barefoot or shirtless, 
they never salute, and when the captain has them fall in, one of the 
soldiers is munching on a roll. This certainly has nothing to do 
with the Third Reich. And I went out of my way to use a van from 
the mid-1950s in the film. 


The story concerns itself not with a particular time, nor a par. 
ticular war, but rather with this idea of putting the instruments of 
war into the hands of individuals. When you watch the scene when 
they meet the gy])sy at the front door, you really do not notice that 
these men are wearing German army uniforms. How often do you 
see German soldiers acting as decently as this in a war film? I think 
that using the war as a backdrop enables the audience to see the 
absurdity and total violence of what went on during the Second 
World War in a different light, one we are not used to seeing. It js 
not a metaphor, but like Invincible which is set just before the era 
of the Third Reich, Signs of Life uses the absurdity of this situation 
- showing the interactions between an occupjdng army and the 
locals - to make what is a more 'existential' point. 
Was Signs of Life an easy shoot? 

One thing that happened whilst I was making the film was I 
understood that somehow I possessed a certain quality which 
means I attract real disaster during the making of my films. I know 

Signs of Life 


it sounds crazy, but there were so many problems during the 
production of Signs of Life that seemed to pave the way for what 
happened on Fata Morgana and Fitzcarraldo and other films. 
Signs of Life started very unfortunately, because everything was 
prepared, I had secured permission to shoot where I wanted to, 
and then three weeks before we started shooting there was a mil- 
itary coup d'etat in Greece. I could not reach anyone, airports 
were closed and trains were stopped at the border. So I drove by 
car non-stop to Athens and discovered that I was not allowed 
even to shoot on Kos because the authorities were so afraid of the 
colonels. My shooting permits had become invalid overnight. 
Then, well into the shoot, the leading actor, Peter Brogle, had an 
accident and broke his heel bone which meant a six-month pause 
during which he was in a cast and afterwards needed a device to 
help him walk. Brogle was originally a tightrope walker and I 
wanted to shoot a sequence in the fortress from one wall to a 
small tower. He needed to fix the rope himself - no one else could 
do it - and he fell from something like eight feet, and that was 
that. A very absurd accident. So we had to suspend shooting for 
six months and after that I could shoot him only from the hip 
upwards. And when it came to the final sequences of the film I 
was forbidden to use fireworks. I told the army major that it was 
essential for the film. 'You'll be arrested,' he said. 'Then arrest 
me,' 1 said, 'but know that I will not be unarmed tomorrow. And 
the first man who touches me will drop down dead with me.' The 
next day there were fifty policemen and soldiers standing watch- 
ing me work, plus a few thousand people from the town who 
wanted to see the fireworks. Of course, I was not armed, but how 
were they to know? Nobody complained or said anything. So 
through all these incidents i learned very quickly that this was the 
very nature of filmmaking. It hit me harder than it did many of my 
colleagues around me. A very valuable lesson: things never go as 
you hope, and there is no point in fuming about it. For a film- 
maker, dependent on so many things outside of your control, it is 
an important lesson. 

What exactly is it that causes the main character, Stroszek, to go 


Actually, I have always felt that Stroszek really is quite sane, even 
when he locks himself in the fortress and shoots fireworks at the 
town. I think he is reacting in an almost necessary way, meeting 
violence with violence, absurdity with absurdity, certainly when he 
sees the valley of windmills and then discovers that Meinhard and 
his wife have reported him. Up to the point where he shoots into 
the crowd the film has suffered from a kind of inertia. Stroszek has 
merely been an observer, sitting for weeks under the sun doing 
nothing, and his actions are perhaps an attempt to break out of 
this inactivity. But never in the film did I aim to concentrate on 
Stroszek's psychological state. I wanted instead to focus - with real 
sympathy - on the physical events that are going on, certainly in 
the later scenes of the film. Before Stroszek's change, the film is 
really only an accumulation of scenes spread over several weeks. 
After his madness kicks in, the story is told in straight chronologi- 
cal fashion and moves through only a couple of days with Stroszek 
holding out in the fortress. From this point on, the film loses com- 
plete interest in his inner personality. We do not have anything like 
a close-up of him from this point on, and most of the time he is not 
even on screen. His actions take over as he fires rockets across the 
bay and shoots a donkey dead. 

How did the short Last Words come about? Was it shot at the same 

One thing to say about Signs of Life - and maybe other filmmakers 
feel this way about their first films - is that I have always had the 
very strong feeling that it was made somehow as if there were no 
history of film preceding it. As such it is my only really innocent 
film. Something like this happens only once in your lifetime because, 
once this innocence has been lost, it can never be recovered. I felt 
this was happening as I was shooting the film, which is maybe one 
reason why I made Last Words, a short produced while we were 
shooting Signs of Life. I wanted to continue venturing out further 
and further into new terrain, and the film is very much the first 
stepping stone into totally unknown areas. Today Last Words has 
such a boldness for me in its narrative form and an utter disregard 
for the narrative 'laws' that cinema traditionally uses to tell sto- 
ries. Compared to Last Words, Signs of Life is very conventional. 


And without Last Words I do not think that Fata Morgana or 
little Dieter Needs to Fly would have happened, nor would cer- 
tain narrative stylizations that I went on to develop subsequently. 
I shot the film in two days and edited it in one. Ever3^hing about it 
was so perfectly clear and right, and it has been a source of 
Tourage for me ever since. 

The idea for the film was that there is an abandoned, decajdng 
island where there were once lepers. It is completely evacuated 
apart from one man who has lost his mind and refuses to leave. 
Deprived of his rights, he is then forcibly brought to the mainland 
by the police. Back living a so-called decent and respectable life, the 
man has so far refused to speak or to go out, except at night when 
he plays on a lyre. You get glimpses of all this, but the story itself is 
not ever explained exactly. It is carried along by compulsive repeti- 
tions. For example, the man who tells the tale of the last Turk's last 
footprint. He had jumped from a cliff into the sea and leaves a 
footprint behind him, and the Greeks erect a chapel above it. The 
man has scarcely finished telling this tale when he starts it again 
from the beginning, and at the end once again he immediately 

Last Words 


retells it a third time. Then there are the two policemen who obvi- 
ously understood what they were saying over and over again, but to 
whom I said, 'In cinema you always repeat a scene to find the best 
one, so why don't you repeat the words ten times. I'll find the best 
one afterwards.' All at once, despite the compulsion they are locked 
into, through all the torment, you get an inkling of who this lyre 
player is. This man is really close to me, he fascinates me. I feel that 
he talks quite normally, even though for minutes on end he says: 
'No, I'm not saying a word. Not a single word. I won't even say no. 
You won't hear a word from me. I'm sa3dng nothing. If you tell me 
to say no, I'll refuse even to do that.' 

Precautions Against Fanatics was your first colour film, a bizarre 
comedy set at a racetrack where various individuals feel it neces- 
sary to protect the animals fi-om local 'fanatics'. Any comments? 

The film was made out of the blue, though like Last Words it is 
quite a bold film in its narrative. Something I should point out is 
that it has a very strange humour to it, though that might not be 
immediately evident to those who do not understand German. 
Recently one of the big magazines in Germany did a feature on me 
with the headline 'This Man Never Laughs', and a photo with the 
kind of seriousness that is somehow expected of me, even when 
you can hear roars of laughter in films like My Best Fiend and 
Even Dwarfs Started Small. The photographer had been snapping 
me with this long lens from a very close distance and sasdng, 
'Laugh! Laugh! Why don't you laugh?' I grew more and more 
uncomfortable and said, T never laugh once a camera is pointed at 
me.' But of course they left out the second part of what I said. 
For Precautions Against Fanatics I went to the racecourse on the 
outskirts of Munich because prominent media figures and actors 
were taking part in an annual race. When I saw them in training I 
immediately decided I would do a film. I talked Kodak into giving 
me some raw colour stock for free; it had been returned to them 
after it had been in Africa for some time and apparently had been 
exposed to heat extremes. The stock was also long beyond its expi- 
ration date. Under no circumstances can companies like Kodak sell 
raw stock like this. They keep it to see if it is still usable because 
they want to discover if the raw stock can survive such disadvan- 


tageous circumstances. I talked them into giving me ten or so rolls, 
which they did so long as I signed a release saying they had warned 
me this was unusable footage, that it had not been sold to me and 
that they were not responsible for the results. I gladly took it and 
basically made this film not even knowing if I would ever end up 
with anything, so it was a gamble. But dammit, I thought that if 
decades after Scott had died near the South Pole his negatives 
could be developed to produce photos, this footage was bound to 
be OK, and in the end we lost not a single frame. Since then I have 
often thought about getting my hands on all the wasted stock that 
companies like Kodak dump and making a film or two. 

You then went to Africa where you interwove the filming of three 
very different films: Fata Morgana, Even Dwarfs Started Small and 
The Flying Doctors of East Africa, the last of which seems a very 
atypical Herzog film. 

The Flying Doctors of East Africa, filmed in Tanzania and Kenya, 
is what I call a Gehrauchsfdm [a film for practical use]. I was asked 
to make it by colleagues of the doctors themselves, and though I do 
like the final result, it is a film that is not particularly close to my 
heart. In fact I do not even call it a film, it is much more a Bericht, 
a report. When I was out with the fljdng doctors they were distrib- 
uting preventative medicine, in this case treatment against tra- 
choma, the eye disease which leaves tens of thousands of people 
blind every year. Prevention is very easy and cheap; the disease is 
caused simply by a lack of hygiene. 

The most interesting scenes stemmed from my interest in vision 
and perception. One of the doctors in the film talks of showing a 
poster of a fly to the villagers. They would say, 'We don't have that 
problem, our flies aren't that large', a response that really fasci- 
nated me. We decided to take some of the posters the doctors used 
for instruction to a coffee plantation to experiment. One was of a 
man, one of a huge human eye, another a hut, another a bowl, and 
the fifth - which was put upside down - of some people and ani- 
mals. We asked the people which poster was upside down and 
which was of an eye. Nearly half could not tell which was upside 
down, and two-thirds did not recognize the eye. One man pointed 
to the window of the hut, for example. 


For the locals these five objects apparently just looked like abstract 
compositions of colours. It was clear their brains were processing 
images in a different way. I still cannot completely figure it out; I can 
only state that they see differently to us. We know so little about vision 
and the process of recognizing images and how the brain sorts 
through and makes sense of them, and after making The flying Doc- 
tors it became very clear to me that perception is in some way cultur- 
ally conditioned and in different societies/i/ncrions in different ways. 

You filmed Fata Morgana before Even Dwarfs Started Small but 
waited a couple of years before releasing it. Why? 

At the time I never felt Fata Morgana was inaccessible, quite the 
opposite in fact. The film is not there to tell you what to think. I did 
not structure it to push any ideas in your face. Maybe more than 
any other films I have made it is one that needs to be completed by 
the audience, which means all feelings, thoughts and interpretations 
are welcome. Today, thirty years later, the film is very much alive to 
audiences. It is like nothing they have ever seen before, and I think 
everyone comes away with their own understanding of the film. 
But immediately after making it I felt that people would ridicule 
the film. I felt Fata Morgana was very frail - like a cobweb - and I 
did not consider it a robust piece of work that could be released. 
One reason for this was probably the horrific time we had making 
the film. I have always felt that sometimes it is just better to keep 
your work under wraps, handing it on to friends just before death, 
asking that it be passed on from friend to friend, never allowing it 
to go public. Only after it has passed down many generations 
might the film be released. I kept the film for almost two years 
without showing it, and then I was deviously tricked by my friends 
Lotte Eisner and Henri Langlois" who borrowed a print and gave 
it to the Cannes Film Festival. When it was finally released it was a 
big success with young people who had taken various drugs and 
was seen as one of the first European art-house psychedelic films, 
which of course it has no connection with at all. 

Amos Vogel called the film 'a cosmic pun on cinema verite'. Did 
you go down to the desert with a script, or were your intentions 
just to document what you found? 


I never look for stories to tell, rather they assail me, and I knew there 
was something I needed to film down in Africa. Those primordial and 
archetypical desert landscapes had fascinated me since my first visit 
to the continent. But Fata Morgana soon became an extremely diffi- 
cult ordeal, something that I know rubbed off on the general feel of 
Even Dwarfs Started Small, which was made almost immediately 
after we had finished Fata Morgana. Even though I was very cautious 
in Africa, it always seemed to go wrong for me there. I am not one of 
those Hemingway BGlimanjaro nostalgia people who love to track 
animals through the underbrush with an elephant gun while being 
fanned by the natives. Africa is a place that has always somehow left 
me frightened, a feeling that I will probably never shake off due to my 
experiences there as a very young man. What I experienced on the 
shoot of Fata Morgana was sadly no different. My plan was to go out 
to the southern Sahara to shoot a kind of science-fiction story about 
aliens from the planet Andromeda, a star outside of our own galaxy, 
who arrive on a very strange planet. It is not Earth, rather some 
newly discovered place where the people live waiting for some immi- 
nent catastrophe, that of a collision with the sun in exactly sixteen 
years. The idea was that after they film a report about the place, we 
human filmmakers discover their footage and edit it into a kind of 
investigative film akin to a very first awakening. With this completed 
film we would be able to see exactly how aliens perceive the planet. 
But from the first day of shooting I decided to scrap this idea. 
The mirages that had taken hold of me and the visionary aspects of 
the desert landscape were so much more powerful than any single 
idea for the film I had previously had, so I junked the story, opened 
my eyes and ears, and just filmed the mirages of the desert. I did 
not ask questions, I just let it happen. My reactions to what I was 
seeing around me were like those of an eighteen-month-old baby 
exploring the world for the first time. It was as if I woke up after a 
night of drunkenness and experienced a moment of real clarity. All 
I had to do was capture the images I saw in the desert and I would 
have my film. There are still some aspects of science fiction that 
remain. For example, the way that, even though obviously shot on 
Earth, the film does not necessarily show the beauty and the har- 
mony and horror of our world, rather some kind of a Utopia - or 
dystopia - of beauty and harmony and horror. When you watch 
Fata Morgana you see the embarrassed landscapes of our world, 


Fata Morgana 

an idea that appears repeatedly throughout my work, from The 
Enigma ofKaspar Fiauser to Pilgrimage. 
What actually is a 'fata morgana'? 

'Fata morgana' means mirage. The first scene of the film is made 
up of eight shots of eight different airplanes landing one after the 
other. I had the feeling that audiences who were still watching by 
the sixth or seventh landing would stay to the end. This opening 
scene sorts out the audiences; it is a kind of test. As the day grows 
hotter and hotter and the air becomes drier and drier, so the images 


get more and more blurred, more impalpable. Something visionary 
sets in - something like fever dreams - that remains with us for the 
entire length of the film. This was the motif of Fata Morgana: to 
captute things that are not real, not even actually there. 
In the desert you can actually film mirages. Of course, you can- 
not film hallucinations which appear only inside your own mind, 
but mirages are something completely different. A mirage is a mir- 
ror reflection of an object that does actually exist and that you can 
see, even though you cannot actually touch it. It is a similar effect 
to when you take a photograph of yourself in the bathroom mirror. 
You are not really there in the reflection but you can still photo- 
graph yourself. The best example I can give you is the sequences we 
shot of the bus on the horizon. It is a strange image; the bus seems 
to be almost floating on water and the people seem to be just glid- 
ing along, not really walking. The heat that day was beyond belief. 
We were so thirsty and we knew that some of the buses had supplies 
of ice on board so right after we stopped the camera we rushed over 
there. But we could not find a single trace of anything. No tyre 
tracks, no tracks at all. There was just nothing there, nor had there 
ever been anything there, and yet we had been able to film it. So 
there must have been a bus somewhere - maybe zo or loo or 300 
miles away - which was visible to us because of the heated strata of 
air that reflected the real existing image. 

How was it filming in the middle of the Sahara with hardly any 
money and such a small crew? 

On the way down to Africa we drove out of Marseilles and all slept 
in the two cars we had because we could not afford a hotel. And 
there were real technical problems shooting in the desert. The 
emulsions on the raw stock would start to melt away in the heat, 
and during the sand storms it was absolutely impossible to keep the 
cameras totally sealed and free of sand. We spent whole days clean- 
ing them afterwards and finding ways to keep the raw stock cool. 
The tracking shots past all these embarrassed landscapes were 
done from the roof of our VW van. Some of it took real work 
because we would spend days smoothing the terrain out before 
we started filming. We needed vast areas smoothed out - some- 
thing we had to do in this incredible heat - because I felt that 


one six-minute tracking shot would say much more than three 
two-minute shots. So Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein would be shooting 
and I would do all the steering myself. I felt it was important for 
me to learn how to move with the rhythm and sensuousness of the 
landscape because I quickly learned that what you might call 
'mechanical' camerawork just did not work in the desert. 
All the machinery you see in the film was, I think, part of an 
abandoned Algerian army depot. I liked the desolation and the 
remains of civilization that were out there, things that added to the 
science-fiction idea. We would find machinery lying in the middle 
of the desert - a cement mixer or something like that - a thousand 
miles from the nearest major settlement or town. You stand in front 
of these things and are in absolute awe. Was it ancient astronauts 
who put these things down here? Or are they man-made and, if so, 
what the hell are they doing here? So much absurdity we encoun- 
tered there. But you know, there is something very primordial and 
mysterious and sensuous about the desert. It is not just a landscape; 
it is a way of life. The solitude is the most overwhelming thing; 
there is a hushed quality to everj^hing. My time in the desert is part 
of a quest that has not yet ended for me, and even though we were 
in a car, the spirit of our journey was like one made on foot. 

Once you'd Junked the script, did you have any plans at all for the 
shoot? Any structure at all? 

None, we just filmed whatever we wanted to with no coherent idea 
about what we might do with all the footage once we got home. 
During the filming of Flying Doctors I had started shooting some 
sequences for Fata Morgana in Tanzania and Kenya with camera- 
man Thomas Mauch. Then we went to Uganda with the intention 
of filming John Okello, the man who a few years before had staged 
a rebellion in Zanzibar and at the age of twenty-eight declared 
himself Field Marshal. He was also the mastermind behind the 
atrocities committed against the Arab population there. I was 
actually in contact with Okello for a time. He wanted me to trans- 
late and publish his book,'3 something thankfully i never did, 
though I did name a character Okello in Aguirre, the Wrath of 
God a couple of years later. Okello would deliver incredible 
speeches full of his hysterical and atrocious fantasies over the 


loudspeaker system from his aeroplane, the climate and taste of 
which were a strong influence on the language that Aguirre uses. 
One of them was something like, T, your Field Marshal, am about 
to land. Anyone stealing as much as a piece of soap will be slung 
into prison for 216 years.' It turned out Okello had been impris- 
oned in Uganda for the past year and a half and the police there 
became interested in our footage. We only just managed to hold on 
to it and fled the country. 

I went home after Flying Doctors and then set out across the 
Sahara in two vehicles, initially with this science-fiction idea and 
three men: Hans Dieter Sauer, who had studied geophysics and 
had crossed the Sahara several times, the photographer Gunther 
Freyse, and cameraman Schmidt-Reitwein. I ended up doing all the 
sound recording, but our first day on the road, barely out of 
Munich, we had to open the hood of the van and accidentally I 
banged it down on Schmidt-Reitwein's hand. I smashed the 
bones of his finger in fourteen pieces and he needed some special 
steel wire to fix it all into place. The whole thing started very 

The first place we filmed was the salt flats of Chott Djerid and 
then we went south to the Hoggar mountains in the middle of the 
Algerian desert before heading due south for the Republic of 
Niger. By the time we reached the southern Sahara, conditions 
were very difficult because it was the start of the rainy season with 
mud, sandstorms and even worse dangers. But it was also the 
hottest season, which was the only time we could film the mirages, 
so we had no choice but to accept these fierce challenges of nature. 
After that we drove over to the Ivory Coast to film in a lagoon, 
which is where the procession and the chants I later used in Even 
Dwarfs Started Small were shot. Then I wanted to go back to 
Uganda to film up in the Ruwenzori mountains where there is a 
sort of prehistoric landscape. Three or four thousand metres up 
there is mysterious vegetation that you might compare to that of 
the dinosaur era. We were not able to cross through Nigeria 
because of the civil war that was raging there so it became clear 
that we were not going to make it to Uganda. Eventually we 
decided on the Congo, and ended up travelling to Cameroon by 
boat and then heading south-east overland. Almost immediately 
after arriving in Cameroon things got completely out of hand. 


/ gather that just before you got there five Germans had got caught 
up in the troubles between the Central African Republic and the 
Congolese eastern provinces and were shot dead near the Ugandan 

Yes, there had been an abortive coup d'etat in Cameroon a few 
weeks before we arrived. All four of us were arrested because 
Schmidt-Reitwein had the bad luck of having a similar name to a 
German mercenary the authorities were looking for and who had 
been sentenced to death in absentia. We were all thrown into a tiny 
cell with sixty other men. We were very badly mistreated. I do not 
want to go into details, but the situation was out of control and 
Schmidt-Reitwein and i both contracted malaria and bilharzia, a 
blood parasite. When we finally got out, there was still a warrant 
out for us all over the country, either on purpose or out of sloven- 
liness the officials forgot to cancel it, so every time we passed 
through a town we were arrested. We stopped shooting only when 
we became totally exhausted, and after arriving in Bangui, in the 
Central African Republic, we took a plane back to Germany. We 
had been in the desert for three months. Just two months later I 
was back in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands to start work on 
Even Dwarfs Started Small, which is where I finally finished shoot- 
ing Fata Morgana. 

Today Fata Morgana seems very frenzied to me, as if a major 
catastrophe is round the corner of every scene. I am sure that our 
experiences forced real life into Fata Morgana, but unlike the feel- 
ings of anger and bitterness I took to the location shooting of Even 
Dwarfs, I do not feel that what happened to us in Africa affected 
the general feel of a single frame of Fata Morgana, at least not in a 
dark way. Rather, I learned how to wrestle something creative out 
of the worst set of circumstances I have ever encountered, coming 
up wdth something clear and transparent and pure. 

Who are all the people in the film? Did you just meet them along 
the way? 

Nothing was planned, we just stumbled across them, including the 
woman plajdng the piano and the guy with goggles on the drums. 
We shot that in a brothel in Lanzarote during Even Dwarfs Started 
Small. She is actually the madam, he is a pimp. He was in charge 


of discipline and would not stop hitting the prostitutes who had 
not sufficiently pleased the clients. Looking back now I probably 
included this sequence because the film is about ruined people in 
ruined places, and the shot spoke of a terrible sadness and despair. 
I think it was in the Republic of Niger where we found the nurse 
who stands in the puddle with the children, teaching them to say 
'Blitzkrieg ist Wahnsinn' ['War is madness']. I always thought the 
man who reads the letter he pulls from his pocket was very mov- 
ing. He was a German who lived in great poverty in Algeria. He 
had been a foreign legionnaire fighting on the side of the French 
against the Algerian revolutionaries but at one point during the 
war had deserted and changed sides. I really liked the dignified 
attitude of the villagers who would feed him and take care of 
him; the Muslim world deals with people like this with great 
dignity. By the time we met him he had basically lost his mind and 
he carried with him a letter that had been written fifteen years 
previously by his mother. When I asked him, he very proudly read 
the letter to us on camera. You can see it is in tatters; he kept it 
under his shirt all this time. The man with the reptiles was from 
Switzerland and clearly had been out in the sun too long. He 
owned the little hotel where we stayed during the shooting of Even 
Dwarfs Started Small. At the time it was the only hotel on the 
island, inconceivable now when you see what the place has 
become. It is utterly destroyed and ruined by tourism. For me it 
does not even exist any more. 

So the three-part structure of the film was conceived during 

Yes, we just brought the footage back and starred to see what we 
had. Of course, we had no opportunities to look at rushes while 
we were making the film, so the editing of Fata Morgana was a 
much more important process to me than it usually is on my 

The three-part structure - 'The Creation', 'Paradise' and 'The 
Golden Age' - was established once all the filming had been done. 
I looked at the footage and, for example, said, 'Yes, this belongs to 
the first part and this to the last.' Some of the images I organized, 
some just seemed to organize themselves. I cannot really explain it. 


For the voice-over of 'The Creation', I adapted a text taken from 
something I had stumbled across when I was hving in Mexico, the 
sacred book of the Quiche Indians, Popol Vuh, one of the most 
beautiful works I have ever read/4 It consists of long passages on 
the heroic exploits of the first migrations. The episodes dealing 
with the Creation explain that it was such a failure the Gods 
started again - I think it was four times - and by the end they had 
entirely wiped out the people they themselves had created. Florian 
Fricke, a trusted collaborator over the years who did the music to 
many of my films, started a group called Popol Vuh as a kind of 
homage to the book. As I sat watching the footage, I felt that the 
text of Popol Vuh corresponded to the images I was looking at, so 
I took the creation mj^ths of the books and altered them slightly for 
the voice-over of the first third of the film. The other two sections 
have texts that I mostly wrote myself. 

Fata Morgana is a film very close to my heart because two 
remarkable people assisted me. One was Lotte Eisner, who did the 
original German voice-over and about whom I will talk later. I 
travelled to her Paris apartment with a Nagra and recorded it in 
one single take with no rehearsals. The other was Amos Vogel,i5 
who refined the English translation I did of the voice-over. Amos 
is a remarkable man, a true visionary and great film scholar who 
has been a mentor and advisor over the years. He escaped from 
Vienna before the Holocaust and went to New York, where he 
has lived ever since. I even named my son after him, Rudolph 
Amos Ahmed Hcrzog. vVhmed comes from a Turkish friend of my 
grandfather with whom I spent time when I was on Kos at the age 
of fifteen. He was so overjoyed that the grandson of Rudolph - 
my grandfather - had come all this way, he opened all the empty 
drawers and cupboard doors in his house and proclaimed, 'This is 
all yours!' He even wanted me to marry his granddaughter. I 
politely refused but promised that I would have children one day 
and would like to name one of them after him. So the boy has 
three names. 

Let me also say one thing about voice-overs in general. In my 
'documentaries' you will often hear my voice. One reason for this 
is that I would rarher audiences who do not understand German 
listen to my voice in English rather than hear me in German and 
read the subtitles. I think the result is a stronger connection to 


what I originally intended for the film. I have also never liked the 
polished and inflected voices of those overly trained actors. 

How different do you think Even Dwarfs Started Small would 
have been if your experiences in the desert had been less unpleas- 

Impossible to say. As usual the script was written very quickly, in 
maybe four or five days. I saw the whole film like a continuous 
nightmare in front of my eyes and wrote it all down. I distinctly 
remember being extremely disciplined whilst tjqDing so I would not 
make any errors in the text. I did not change a single word, rather 
just let it all pour out. I do not think I made more than five typos 
in the entire screenplay. I just hammered it out. When I returned to 
Lanzarote to start shooting Even Dwarfs Started Small I was full 
of bitterness, affected by sickness and the film became a more 
radical film than I had originally planned. Aguirre looks like 
kindergarten against this one. Somehow I had the feeling that if 
Goya and Hieronymus Bosch had the guts to do their gloomiest 
stuff, why shouldn't I? 

This was the late 1960s, revolution was in the air, yet you seemed 
to ignore the political fervour. Is that why you were branded a fas- 
cist after the film came out? 

I was basically accused of ridiculing the world revolution with 
Even Dwarfs rather than proclaiming it. Actually, that is probably 
the one thing they might have been right about. The film was made 
in 1968 and 1969 at the height of the student revolt, and several 
over-zealous left-wingers told me my film was fascistic because it 
showed a ridiculous failed revolt with dwarfs. They insisted that 
when you portray a revolution you have to show a successful rev- 
olution, and as Even Dwarfs does not do this, for them it was 
clearly made by a fascist. 

I actually find the film very funny; it has a strange comic effect, 
even though I ache when I laugh. In a way, the revolt of the dwarfs 
is not a real defeat because for them it is a really good, memorable 
day; you can see the joy in their faces. Look at the last shot of the 
film with the kneeling dromedary and the laughing dwarf. If I had 
gone back three weeks later to where we had been filming, they 


would still be there, the midget laughing away. Anj^vay, I told 
these agitators that the film had absolutely nothing to do with the 
1968 movements, that they were blinded by zealousness and that 
if they looked at the film twenty years down the line they might 
just see a more truthful representation of what happened in 1968 
than in most other films. I think that annoyed them even more. It 
comes quite simply down to this: nightmares and dreams do not 
follow the rules of political correctness. 

Why were you so resistant to late 1960s politics? 

The ideas and actions sweeping the world in 1968 were not for 
me because at that time, contrary to most of my peers, I had 
already been much further out into the world. I had travelled, I 
had made films, I had already taken on responsibilities that very 
few people my age had. For me, this rather rudimentary analysis 
that Germany was a fascist and repressive prison state, which had 
to be overpowered by a socialist Utopian revolution, seemed quite 
wrong. I knew the revolution would not succeed because it was 
rooted in such an inadequate analysis of what was really going 
on, so I did not participate. And because I have never been into 
using the medium of film as a political tool, my attitude really put 
me apart from most other filmmakers. As there were very few 
reviewers and journalists who were not wildly into revolutionary 
jargon at the time and who did not put ridiculous political 
demands on filmmakers, my films suffered at the hands of many 
of the critics. 

Why dwarfs? 

German culture is full of dwarfs and midgets, from the earliest 
fairy tales through to Wagner and The Tin Drum."^ The dwarfs 
in the film are not freaks, we are the dwarfs. They are well pro- 
portioned, charming and beautiful people. If you are only two 
feet tall that means the world around you is totally out of pro- 
portion. Just look around us: the worlds of commerce and con- 
sumer goods have become such monstrosities these days. For the 
midgets, even door knobs are huge. There was a clear decision to 
shoot from the dwarfs' point of view because then ever3^hing, 
apart from the people themselves, would be out of proportion. 


Even Dwarfs Started Smal 

So if the film is 'saying' anything, it is that it is not the midgets 
who are monstrous, it is us and the society we have created for 

We all have a dwarf inside us. It is as if there is something of an 
essence or a concentrated form of each of us that is screaming to 
get out and that is a perfectly formed representation of who we are. 
It is like the laughter we hear at the end of the film. It is laughter 
per se; laughter can go no further than this. It is a very real night- 
mare for some people who wake up at night and know that basi- 
cally, deep down, they are just a midget. Sometimes when I was 
working on the film, I would wake up in terror at night and had to 
feel about with my arms and legs: was I still as big as I was when I 
went to sleep? I have found that people essentially react to the film 
depending on how they react to the dwarf in themselves, which is 
the reason why the film drew such mixed responses fi-om people: 
they either loved it or hated it. 


where did you find all the midgets? 

Casting was not easy and took a whole year. But generally when 
you find one midget you find several, so I just went from one 
midget to the next, hiring their friends. They were very happy to 
make the film and we would always ask their opinions about what 
was or was not suitable to do. For the first time in their lives they 
were able to show their real personalities at work. If the dwarfs are 
good in the film, it is because they express true humanity and by 
doing so affirm their own dignity. A really deep relationship 
formed between the actors and the small crew, and after a week of 
working with them, I completely forgot they were so tiny. They 
really got into the spirit of things. 

The one who is up on the roof of the car as it is going round and 
round in circles was truly a very bold little guy. During the shot he 
was run over by the car. I ran over to him thinking he was dead, 
but he just scrambled to his feet. He was so proud he did a shot 
that usually would have been entrusted to a stuntman. Then, later 
in the film when they burn the flower pots, they actually watered 
them with gasoline and set them on fire. All of a sudden this same 
guy caught fire and the crew is just standing there, looking at him 
like a burning Christmas tree, so I buried him under me and 
extinguished the fire. His ear was only a little scorched. 
All this led to an incident which is reported in almost every lit- 
tle biography of me, a banal little side event. I had the feeling I 
should be on equal terms with them - a director should not be 
safe and sound behind the camera while the actors are feeling all 
alone out there - so that same day I told them all, Tf all of you get 
out of this film unscathed, if you are unhurt at the end, I am going 
to jump in the field of cacti.' Some of them were seven feet high. I 
said, 'You can take your 8 mm cameras and I am going to do the 
big leap into the plant for you.' So I put on some goggles to pro- 
tect my eyes and jumped from a ramp. And I can tell you that get- 
ting out is a lot more difficult than jumping in. Any old idiot can 
do the leap in; it takes something else to extricate yourself from 
something like that. The spines were the size of my fingers. I do 
not think I have any left embedded in me. It seems that the body 
absorbs them eventually. 


How long was the shoot? 

We shot the film in about five weeks. Much of the time was spent 
on the sound because I knew it was specially important to record 
direct sound. Take Hombre's voice, the reason why you could 
never dub a film like this into another language. His voice is very 
particular and high pitched, and he had this shrill sort of laughter 
which I discovered on day one of shooting. I found it so astonish- 
ing that I decided it would be the element that carried the end of 
the film with the shot of him and the dromedary as he literally 
laughs himself to death. That final sequence sums up for me what 
the film really is. I told him, 'Give it your best laughter, this is your 
big moment where I am going to end the film. Go wild. We will 
shoot it only once, but make sure you give the ultimate perform- 
ance.' And he gave it everything he had. I really Jove him for that. 
He started to cough, and just kept on going. I was standing there 
thinking, 'My God, this really is too much. I should cut.' And just 
as there really was no mercy in the story I had originally seen in my 
head, so this shot just went on and on. Eventually the moment 
came when I just could not take it any longer. 'Just stop the cam- 
era, end the film and let's go home. Enough.' 

I understand the film was censored in Germany. 

In Germany at the time we had something called Freiwillige 
Selbstkontrolle,'7 which is essentially voluntary censorship. After 
the Nazi era the German constitution refused to accept any sort of 
censorship, though the film industry had a self-imposed set of 
rules. You did not have to submit your films, and if you chose to 
bj^ass this there were no penalties per se, but cinemas would 
generally not play your films. I submitted Even Dwarfs to the cen- 
sorship board and they banned it from the first till the last minute. 
There were things in it they felt were very controversial, and I 
ended up renting cinemas myself to screen it in a couple of towns 
in Germany. I got several death threats every week during the run. 
The white supremacists and people like that would call and tell me 
I was high on their list of people they wanted killed. 
Following appeals, the film was finally screened uncut. They 
said it was 'anarchistic and blasphemous', which I suppose they 
were quite right about, not that it bothers me. I can certainly see 


that there is real taboo-breaking in the film. The animal rights 
people, for example, were furious at the scene where the monkey 
was tied to the cross and paraded about, even though it was tied 
down with very soft wool. The religious song they sing meant 
the Catholics were breathing down my neck too. And the final 
scene caused problems because a rumour went around that to 
get the dromedary on its knees for so long I cut its sinews. Very 
quickly I learned something that was to come in useful years 
later when I made Fitzcarraldo: that you can fight a rumour only 
with an even wilder rumour. So immediately I issued a statement 
that actually I had nailed the dromedary to the ground. That 
silenced them. Of course, in reality the creature was a very docile 
and well-trained animal whose owner was standing about two 
feet outside of the frame giving it orders. He was trying to con- 
fuse the dromedary by constantly giving it conflicting orders by 
hand: sit down, get up, sit down, get up. And in despair the ani- 
mal defecated, something which looks absolutely wonderful on 

The only film that has a similar quality to Even Dwarfs Started 
Small is Todd Browning's Freaks,'* which I saw much later and 
which I think is one of the greatest films ever made. It really fasci- 
nated me because I had the feeling all of a sudden that more than 
forty years before my own film there was somebody who had done 
something similar. Yet even though the monsters are portrayed 
with real dignity and tenderness in Freaks, it seems that Browning 
was almost apologetic about the film and maybe never knew what 
a great piece of work he had created. 

Do you ever get bored? 

No, never. The word is not even in my vocabulary. I seem to scare 
and astonish my wife by being capable of standing staring out of 
the window for days at a time, even when there is nothing hap- 
pening out there. I may look catatonic, but not so inside. There 
might be storms raging inside, i think it was Wittgenstein who 
talked about being inside a house and seeing a figure outside 
strangely flailing about. From inside you cannot see what storms 
are raging out there, so you find the figure funny. 


You say that you never dream, and yet our conversations have been 
full of talk about things such as 'dream-like landscapes'. Maybe 
your films are some kind of substitute to your apparent lack of 

Every morning upon waking I always feel something of a deficit. 
'Again! Why have I not dreamt?' I feel like people who do not eat 
or sleep enough, who are always hungry or tired, and this mighr be 
one of the reasons why I make films. Maybe I want to create 
images for the screen that are so obviously absent from my head 
at night. I am constantly daydreaming, however. 

My honest belief is that the images in my films are your images 
too. Somehow, deep in your subconscious, you will find them 
lurking dormant like sleeping friends. Seeing the images on film 
wakes them up, as if I am introducing to you a brother whom you 
have never actually met. This is one reason why so many people 
around the world seem to connect with my films. The only dif- 
ference between you and me is that I am able to articulate with 
some clarity these unpronounced and unproclaimed images, our 
collective dreams. In no way would I compare myself to the man, 
but allow me to cite his name to make a point. Many years ago for 
a whole day I went to the Vatican and looked at Michelangelo's 
frescoes in the Sistine Chapel. I was overwhelmed with the feeling 
that before Michelangelo no one had ever articulated and 
depicted human pathos as he did in those paintings. Since then all 
of us have understood ourselves just that little bit deeper, and for 
this reason I truly feel his achievements are as great as the inven- 
tion of agriculture. 

You really never dream? Ever? 

I do dream once in a while, maybe every couple of years. But it is 
always so damned prosaic, usually something like me eating a sand- 
wich. I mean, do they really want to spend time analyzing that? 
I have always felt that, to a certain degree, cinema should 
encourage everyone to take their own dreams seriously and to 
have the courage to do what they really want to do, even if some- 
times it ends in failure. In Burden of Dreams, the film Les Blank 
shot on the set of Fitzcarraldo, I tell the story of going back to Ger- 
many when things were not going so well in an attempt to hold all 


the investors in the film together. They all asked me if I was 
going to continue with the project. 'Do you really have the 
strength and the will?' I looked at them and said, 'How can you 
ask this question? If I abandon this project, I will be a man without 
dreams.' I went on in the face of such opposition, and I finished the 
film. And today it is the film that everyone knows me for. If you 
watch Fitzcarraldo and you have the courage to push on with yout 
own projects, then the film has truly achieved something. If i find 
one person who walks out of a cinema of 300 people after watch- 
ing one of my films and does not feel alone any more, then I have 
achieved everything I have set out to achieve. 


1 Wim Wenders (b. 1945, Germany) remains one of the leading film 
directors working today. His films include the trilogy of Alice in the 
Cities (1974), Wrong Direction (1974) and Kings of the Road 
(1976), The American Friend (1977) and Paris, Texas (1984). 
See also his volume of collected writings On Film (Faber and Faber, 

2 See John Sanford's New German Cinema (Da Capo, 1980) and 
Sabine Hake's German National Cinema (Routledge, 2002) for sum- 
maries of the state of West German film in the 1950s. 

3 Ruy Guerra (b. 1931, Mozambique) trained in Paris and moved to 
Brazil where he made The Guns (1964) and Gods and the Dead 
(1970). He also appeared as an actor in Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath 
of God (1972). See John King's Magical Reels: A History of Cinema 
in Latin America (Verso, 2000), pp. 105-128. 

4 Glauber Rocha (1938- 8T, Brazil) was the influential director of 
Terra em Transe (1967). See Sylvie Pierre's Glauber Rocha (Cahiers 
du Cinema, 1987). 

5 Established in 1971 by Wenders and Fassbinder, among others, as 
a production company. 'At the time we started Filmverlag, we 
were trying to avoid dealing with the mafia of the "percentage 
producers", who grew fat on the film subsidies scheme,' said 
Edgar Reitz. 

6 Herbert Achternbusch (b. 1938, Germany) is a Bavarian avant-garde 
writer and director who co-wrote the script for Herzog's Signs of 

7 Werner Schroeter (b. 1945, Germany) directed the opening opera 
sequences of Herzog's Fitzcarraldo and is the accomplished film 
director of works such as Salome (1971) and Malina (1990). 

8 For example, Zweites Deutsches Femsehen (ZDF) is Germany's 


second public television station. Throughout the late 1970s ZDF also 
broadcast a weekly television play under the banner of 'Das Heine 
Femsehspiel'. The series included films by Kluge and Reitz, Werner 
Schroeter, Theo Angelopoulos, Errol Morris, Bill Douglas and 
Chantai Akerman. See BFI Dossier Number 14: Alternative Film- 
Making in Television: ZDF - A Helping Hand, edited by HartnoU 
and Porter (BFI, 1982). 

9 The Pilm/Femsehen Abkommen was formalized in 1974, after Herzog's 
Aguirre, the Wrath of God but in time to save The Enigma ofKaspar 
Hauser from the same fate. 'The lag time between first cinema release 
and a television broadcast could be anything between six months and 
five years.' (Elsaesser, pp. 33-4; see Bibliography). 

10 The Codex Regius is published by the University of Texas Press as 
The Poetic Edda (edited by Lee M. Hollander, 1998). 

11 Translated as The Mad Veteran of the Fort Ratonneau' in The Blue 
Flower, Best Stories of the Romanticists (edited by Hermann Kesten, 
Roy Publishers, 1946). 

12 Henri Langlois (1914-77, Turkey), who remains a tremendously 
influential fUm historian and curator, helped to educate the French 
New Wave directors (Godard, Truffaut, Chabrol, Rohmer, etc.) by 
founding the Cinematheque Fran§aise in 1936 in Paris. Wim Wenders 
dedicated his film The American Friend (1977) to Langlois. As 
Richard Rond points out, 'The important difference between the 
Cinematheque Frangaise and the archives in New York (at the 
Museum of Modern Art) and London (at the British Film Institute) 
was that the Cinematheque began with the idea of showing films as 
well as preserving them.' (A Passion for Films, Seeker and Warberg, 
1983, p. 11.) 

13 Field Marshal John Okello, Revolution in Zanzibar (East African 
Publishing House, 1967). 

14 Popol Vuh: The Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life, translated by 
Dennis Tedlock 'with commentary based on the ancient knowledge 
of the modern Quiche Maya' (Touchstone, 1986). This edition is 
'The definitive edition of the Mayan book of the dawn of life and the 
glories of Gods and Kings.' 

15 Amos Vogel (b. 1921, Austria) is an important figure in post-war 
American film culture. He co-founded the New York Film Festival 
with Richard Roud and from 1947 to 1963 ran New York's 
Cinema 16, America's most important film club, while his book 
Film as a Subversive Art (Random House, 1974) remains an 
influential book. See Scott Macdonald's Cinema 16: Documents 
Toward a History of the Film Society (Temple University, 2002). 

16 The Tin Drum was written by German novelist Giinther Grass in 
1959 (part of his 'Danzig Trilogy'). 


17 Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle der Filmwirtschaft (FSK, Film Industry's 
Voluntary Self-Censorship) was established in 1949 by Germany's 
film industry at the behest of the Federal Republic's new government. 
Though technically 'voluntary', the FSK had a censorship monopoly, 
i.e. all films released in West Germany had to be given a rating. Were 
they to flout these recommendations, distributors and exhibitors 
faced legal and economic pressures from the FSK' (Elsaesser and 
Wedel, p. 49; see Bibliography). 

18 Browning's film Freaks is a controversial but recognized classic from 
1932. The tagline read: 'Can a full grown woman truly love a 


3. Adequate Imogerv 

Do you have an ideology? Something that drives you beyond mere 

Well, I would have to say that 'mere' storytelling, as you call it, is 
good enough for a film. When I sit down to write a script I never 
attempt to articulate my ideas in abstract terms through the veil of 
an ideology. My films come to me very much alive, like dreams 
without logical patterns or academic explanations. I will have a 
basic idea /or a film and then over a period of time, when maybe I 
am driving or walking, it becomes clearer and clearer to me. I see 
the film before me, as if I were in a cinema. Soon it is so perfectly 
transparent that I can sit and write it all down. It is as if I were 
copying fi-om a movie screen. I like to write fast because it gives the 
story a certain urgency. I leave out all unnecessary things and just 
go for it. A story written this way will have, for me at least, much 
more coherence and drive. And it will also be full of life. For these 
reasons it has never taken me longer than four or five days to write 
a script. I just sit in front of the typewriter or computer and pound 
the keys. 

Whether I have an ideology is not something that I have ever 
given much rhought to, though I do understand where the question 
might come fi-om. People generally sense I am very well-orientated 
and know where I have come from, where I am standing now and 
where I am going. But it is not an ideology as most people think of 
the term. It is just that I understand the world in my own way and 
am capable of articulating this understanding into stories and 
images that seem to be coherent to others. Even after watching my 
films, it bothers some people that they still cannot put their finger 


on what my ideology might be. Please, take what I am saying with 
a pair of pliers, but let me tell you: the ideology is simply the films 
themselves and my ability to make them. This is what scares 
those people who try so hard to analyze and criticize me and my 
work. I do not like to drop names, but what sort of an ideology 
would you push under the shirt of Conrad or Hemingway or 
Kafka? Goya or Caspar David Friedrich? 

I have often spoken of what I call the inadequate imagery of 
today's civilization. I have the impression that the images that sur- 
round us today are worn out; they are abused and useless and 
exhausted. They are limping and dragging themselves behind the 
rest of our cultural evolution. When I look at the postcards in 
tourist shops and the images and advertisements that surround us 
in magazines, or I turn on the television, or if I walk into a travel 
agency and see those huge posters with that same tedious image of 
the Grand Canyon on them, I truly feel there is something danger- 
ous emerging here. The biggest danger, in my opinion, is television 
because to a certain degree it ruins our vision and makes us very 
sad and lonesome. Our grandchildren will blame us for not having 
tossed hand-grenades into TV stations because of commercials. 
Television kills our imagination and what we end up with are 
worn-out images because of the inability of too many people to 
seek out fresh ones. 

As a race we have become aware of certain dangers that sur- 
round us. We comprehend, for example, that nuclear power is a 
real danger for mankind, that over-crowding of the planet is the 
greatest of all. We have understood that the destruction of the 
environment is another enormous danger. But I truly believe that 
the lack of adequate imagery is a danger of the same magnitude. It 
is as serious a defect as being without memory. What have we done 
to our images? What have we done to our embarrassed land- 
scapes? I have said this before and will repeat it again as long as I 
am able to talk: if we do not develop adequate images we will die 
out like dinosaurs. Look at the depiction of Jesus in our iconog- 
raphy, unchanged since the vanilla ice-cream kitsch of the 
Nazarene school of painting in the late nineteenth century. These 
images alone are sufficient proof that Christianity is moribund. We 
need images in accordance with our civilization and our innermost 
conditioning, and this is the reason why I like any film that 


searches for new images no matter in what direction it moves or 
what story it tells. One must dig like an archaeologist and search 
our violated landscape to find anything new. It can sometimes be a 
struggle to find unprocessed and fresh images. 

And there are few filmmakers who are willing to take the necessary 

Perhaps, yes. But I would never complain about how difficult it is 
to get images that are clear, pure, transparent, i would go 
absolutely anywhere; down here it is hardly possible any more. I 
did once seriously consider applying to NASA to be on one of their 
missions. I would like to be there with a camera. I am certain there 
really would be very good stuff out there to film. Basically, they 
send technicians up there who are not very inspired and who do 
not take advantage of the photographic possibilities of travelling 
to the Moon. On one of the Apollo missions they left a camera on 
the Moon which for days slowly panned from left to right, then 
right to left. They transmitted the images and I remember watch- 
ing it on German television day and night. My God, I was aching 
for the chance to get up there and grab the damned thing! So many 
possibilities up there for fresh images. Space travel is unfinished 
business for me. 

Many critics seem to have found themes running throughout your 
work over the years. Are you able to pinpoint any of these your- 


Of course, by now you know that I never consciously think about 
the 'theme' of a film and how the ideas and story might be related 
in some way to abstract ideas or previous films. Simply, I do not 
care about themes, I care about stories. Apparently there are run- 
ning themes throughout my work and, as you say, some writers 
seem to have identified them. But please do not ask me to name 
them. You could read to me all these kinds of ideas until you are 
blue in the face, but I never ask myself specific questions or con- 
sciously tackle specific themes when I sit down to write a screen- 
play. I just write a story. Many of those who write about my films 
have been trained to think in certain ways, to be able to analyse 
someone's work and pick out apparent themes, and that is fine. 


It does not mean they are right, it does not mean they are wrong. 
They function in their world and I in mine. 

Maybe there are some related ideas in my work, those connect- 
ing lines in this tightly woven fabric that is Herzog's body of work. 
Though I cannot be sure of this, I do know one thing. Let's say you 
turn on the television and see ten seconds of a film. You would 
immediately know that this must be one of my films. 

Surely you must be able to see some specific connections between 
at least some of your films? 

To answer that, let me say I have always felt my characters all 
along belong to the same family, whether they be fictional or non- 
fictional. They have no shadows, they are without pasts, they all 
emerge from the darkness. I have always thought of my films as 
really being one big work that I have been concentrating on for 
forty years. The characters in this huge story are all desperate and 
solitary rebels with no language with which to communicate. 
Inevitably they suffer because of this. They know their rebellion is 
doomed to failure, but they continue without respite, wounded, 
struggling on their own without assistance. 

People often tell me that all my leading characters are so-called 
marginals and outsiders, but I always felt that a figure like BCaspar 
Ha user was not an outsider. He is at the centre; he manages to 
retain his unblemished human dignity while everyone around him 
seems to be so hideously conditioned. These people, transformed 
as they are into domesticated pigs or members of bourgeois 
society, are the bizarre ones, not Kaspar. People often say I am a 
marginal and eccentric filmmaker. When you look at my films you 
see there is absolutely nothing eccentric about them. When you sit 
three feet away from me do you see anything eccentric, do you? 

No, Werner, absolutely not. 

I am dead centre. In comparison to me, all the rest are eccentric. 
Aguirre, Fini Straubinger, both Stroszek and Kaspar Hauser, they 
all fit into this pattern. So do Walter Steiner, Hias in Heart of Glass, 
Woyzeck, Fitzcarraldo, the aborigines of Where the Green Ants 
Dream and the people we found in the desert who appear in Fata 
Morgana. Even figures like Reinhold Messner, Jean-Bedei Bokassa, 


Nosferatu and even Knski himself, or the 'minor' characters hlce 
Vladimir Kokol in Land of Silence and Darkness, who can connect 
with the world only by bouncing a ball off his head and clutching 
a radio to his chest, much like Kaspar Hauser, who plays with his 
wooden horse when he is imprisoned in his cellar. Whether they 
he hallucinating soldiers or the deaf and dumb or dwarfs they are 
not freaks. These people are not pathologically mad; it is society 
that is mad. It is the situations they find themselves in and the peo- 
ple who surround them who are mad. It is difficult to put my fin- 
ger on exactly what binds this family of characters together, but if 
a member of this family were walking about town, you would 
intuitively recognize them at once. I cannot really explain it any 
further, other than to say that all my films appear to be similar in 
their feeling about life and as such in one way or another form a 
single whole. They are all close to each other like the parts of a 
huge body; looked at together, they are a single film with many 
different dimensions rather than simply a chain of films. 

How close do you feel to the characters in your films? 

I am sure you can tell that I have a great deal of sympathy for these 
people to the point where Schmidt-Reitwein used to joke that I 
should play all the characters in my films myself. I do actually 
function pretty well as an actor and in many of my films I could 
have played the leading character if need be. This is something that 
might answer the question that crops up very often about why 
there are so few women in centra) roles in my films. I think one 
reason is simply because I could not have played these parts 
myself. I could never make a film about someone - whether I am 
making features or 'documentaries' - I do not have some sjonpa- 
thetic curiosity for. In fact, when it comes to Fini Straubinger in 
Land of Silence and Darkness, Bruno in Kaspar Hauser and 
Dieter Dengler, these people are points of reference not just for my 
work, but for my life. I learned so much from my time with them 
and I think the radical dignity they radiate is clearly visible in the 
films. There is certainly something of what constitutes them inside 
me. In Steiner's case, it is some kind of ecstasy and solitude and 
daring, while in Fini's case, something about her difficulty wdth 


Allow me to say once again: I am not one of those intellectuals 
who possess a philosophy or a social structure in their mind that 
from the start guides a film. I have never set out to imbue my films 
with literary or philosophical references. Film should be looked at 
straight on, it is not the art of scholars but of illiterates. You could 
even argue that I am illiterate. I have never read a lot or thought 
about philosophical themes that I could then shoot through these 
stories I tell. For me it is much more about real life than about 
philosophy. All my films have been made without this kind of 
contemplation. Contemplation always comes after the film. 

Land of Silence and Darkness, your film about the deaf and blind 
fifty-six-year-old Fini Straubinger, is one of my favourites of all 
your films. Whenever I have presented it to audiences, it has always 
made a tremendous impact. Why do you think the film strikes such 
a chord? 

In contrast to a film like Even Dwarfs Started Small, there is a 
great deal of softness in Land of Silence and Darkness. People gen- 
erally respond so positively to it because it is a film about solitude, 
about the terrifying difficulties of being understood by others. 
Essentially, everything we have to deal with every single day of our 
lives. In the film one finds the most radical and absolute human 
dignity, human suffering stripped bare. 

Land of Silence and Darkness is a film particularly close to my 
heart. If I had not have made it there would be a great gap in my 
existence. Fini Straubinger, a fifty-six-year-old deaf and blind 
woman, caused me to think about loneliness to an extent that I 
never had before. In her case, loneliness is taken to unimaginable 
limits, and I have the distinct impression that anyone seeing the 
film asks, 'Good God, what would be left of my life if I were blind 
and deaf? How could I live, overcome loneliness, make myself 
understood?' And the question of how we learn concepts, learn 
languages, learn communication is also there. It is a theme that 
also comes out very strongly in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser 
and I always felt the two films fit together. Fini is one of those 
cases where I believe happiness or unhappiness never played a role 
in her existence. She knew that her life had meaning because she 
was such a support for so many people, travelling around and 


Land of Silence and Darkness 

spending time with other deaf and blind people. Of course, she 
must have experienced unhappiness being bedridden for thirty 
years, unable to see and hear and being so isolated, so dependent 
on morphine, but there were things that were just far more 
important to her. 

What's quite inspirational about the film is that basically it was 
made by three people, wasn 't it? 

That is right, and the ratio of footage shot to what you see in the 
final film is probably two to one. The film is an hour and a half, 
and I think we shot about three hours of footage in total. Not only 
that, but the film cost only $30,000. It was just me, Schmidt- 
Reitwein on camera and Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus who edited the 
film. We had absolutely nothing, yet came up with a film that is still 
watched thirty years later. This should be a lesson to filmmakers 
today, especially with the cheaper digital cameras and editing 
equipment at their disposal. You need only guts to make films. 


just the sense that you have to make your films. Every able-bodied 
filmmaker out there should be able to raise the pittance needed to 
make a film like Land of Silence and Darkness today. Do not wait 
for the system to finance things like this. Rob a bank, for God's 

I think the work we did on that film is some of the best I have 
ever done. You can really feel the very tender approach we took in 
the camerawork. I wanted the characters to come across in the 
most direct way possible and told Schmidt-Reitwein not to use a 
tripod because it would be too static and merciless. I wanted to feel 
the breathing of the camera and by extension the people he was 
filming. He had to let the camera beat as if it were part of his own 
heart. I did not want him to use the zoom but, where possible, 
move into the crowds using his whole body. Take the sequence at 
the end with Herr Fleischmann, the deaf man who became blind 
when he was thirty-three years old and who lived for six years in a 
cowshed. Remember the shot when he walks over and touches the 
tree? It is absolutely unforgettable, a whole human drama played 
out in two minutes. If you had not watched the rest of the film and 
tuned in just at that point you would just think, 'Well, there's a 
man who is embracing a tree.' What is happening on screen at that 
point zs very simple, but it requires the additional one and a half 
hours of preceding scenes to make the audience receptive and 
sensitive enough to be able to understand that this is one of the 
deepest moments you can ever encounter. I had no preconceived 
structure to the film before I started making it, but things just fell 
into place very easily. As soon as I saw Herr Fleischmann under the 
tree, I knew it was such a striking image that it would probably be 
the end of the film. 

Where did you first meet Fini? 

I had been asked to make a documentary about thalidomide vic- 
tims in West Germany and produced a film called Handicapped 
Future. The reason this film is in no way stylized is because, like 
The Flying Doctors of East Africa, it was proposed by someone 
else, in this case by a young man whose very best friend was in a 
wheelchair. I was asked to do a film on him alone, but after some 
investigation I felt there was more to the subject and I made 


Handicapped Future - another example of what I call a 
Gebrauchsfilm - so I could give it to those institutions who take 
care of the physically handicapped and assist them in raising 
public awareness of their cause. At the time, treatment of the 
handicapped was somewhat mediaeval. For example, in Germany 
there were very few elevators in public spaces or sidewalks that 
could be used by wheelchairs. It is probably one of my most 
directly politically aware films because I wanted to explore the 
development of legislation emerging from the United States - that 
later trickled across to Germany and other European countries - 
which was helping the handicapped minority. The film actually 
helped trigger a change of awareness of these issues in Germany 
which led to new legislation. I do not know if I like the film; today 
it seems dangerously conventional. If I was to make a similar film 
today it would be much harsher. In pursuit of the deeper truths, I 
would not shrink back from anything, even when telling such a 
tragic story. 

More importantly. Handicapped Future was somehow a prede- 
cessor to Land of Silence and Darkness and directly triggered that 
film. During filming, Schmidt-Reitwein and I went to hear a speech 
given by Gustav Heinemann, the President of West Germany, 
where I met Fini. You can actually see on film the first moment I 
encountered her: it is the scene that appears about halfway 
through Land of Silence and Darkness when she is at the Heine- 
mann talk and her companion is describing what is going on to her 
through the tactile language they are using. We were filming the 
President and I turned and saw this man tapping out something on 
to the hand of the woman sitting next to him. I immediately sensed 
this was something big that I should take note of, so I gently 
nudged Schmidt-Reitwein, who slowly moved his camera around 
and filmed the two of them. 

Let me add something about my work with Schmidt-Reitwein 
and other cameramen. I have a symbiotic and very physical rela- 
tionship with the cinematographers that I have worked with over 
the years. With Thomas Mauch, I would walk step by step in 
actual physical contact with him, like a pair of ice skaters. More 
recently, with Peter Zeitlinger, I would put one arm around his 
chest from behind or my hand on his belt. Each of us knows per- 
fectly the movements of the other, and if I observe something 


unforeseen and it interests me, I push the cameraman towards it 
with a nudge or a whisper. In the final sequence of Land of Silence 
and Darkness, I had my arm around Jorg and I just softly turned 
him. Immediately, he knew that there was something he had not 
seen, so he turned and straightaway picked up on Herr Fleischmann 
moving slowly away and zeroed in on him under the tree. I love to 
work this way. 

How easy was it to persuade Fini to allow herself to be filmed? 

Fini allowed me to make the film because she understood that it 
would not be about just her, but would be of some significance for 
all of us who are in search of clearer forms of communication with 
others. We groped our way with Fini without really knowing what 
we were doing, pushing her into areas she would never talk about. 
It was a case of filming over a period of about half a year or so. For 
example, we knew it was Fini's birthday and as a present I organ- 
ized a plane ride, the first time she had ever flown. She really loved 
it. We waited for events or staged things or would follow her when 
she would travel out to Lower Bavaria to take care of another deaf 
and blind person. I truly loved her and did things with her thai 
nobody else would ever do. She had been prevented from mak- 
ing mischief for so long that I decided to take her out into the 
countryside on my motorcycle where we would poach pheasants. I 
would take my small calibre rifle with me - she would hide it under 
her coat as I had no licence - and I would shoot the gun off. It was 
exciting for her because she sensed the shot, she could feel the 
power from the muzzle of the gun, and she was exhilarated 
because for the first time in her life she had the opportunity to do 
something which was against the law. When she plucked the 
pheasant later, she was still delighted about the mischief we had 
done together, and the pheasant tasted twice as good. I even asked 
her to babysit for my little son Rudolph. He was only a year old, 
and nobody had ever entrusted her with such responsibility. And 
my mother who lived in Munich became very close to her after the 
filming was finished. I was so often away filming, and my mother 
learned the tactile language so she could speak with Fini. We both 
learned it quite quickly, about as fast as it takes to learn to type, 
and by the end I was even tapping into Fini's toes and the sole of 


her foot and she would understand. So it was much more than just 
the film for us. Fini died about five years after the film was done. 

Why did you want to include the children who had been born deaf 
and blind? 

It came very naturally and I thought it was important to show a 
different side to the story. Fini went deaf and blind when she was 
a teenager, which clearly makes a real difference in the kind of con- 
tact she had with the outside world. We will never know what 
these other kids think about the world around them, for there is 
just no way to communicate with them, and contact rarely sur- 
passes the very basic palpable essentials: 'This is a book. This is 
heat. Do you need food?' 

There are some famous cases like the American Helen Keller, 
who was born deaf and blind and who actually studied philoso- 
phy.i Her case raises many questions about what these children 
think and fee) about abstracr concepts, to say nothing of innate 
human emotions. It seems certain they do feel and understand emo- 
tions like anger and fear just like anyone else, but it is not possible 
for us to know truly know how these children cope with the anony- 
mous fears that are within and that can never be explained by the 
outside world. The children we filmed would have moments of deep 
fear that seemed to relate only to what was happening inside their 
own heads, which when you think about it is quite startling. 

What was the public reaction to the film? 

Land of Silence and Darkness was actually refused by television 
for two and a half years. I was so angry that I threatened the net- 
work executives, telling them that I would buy their television 
station in twenty-five years when I was rich and fire them all. Of 
course, they did not take me seriously, but they did finally test the 
waters by screening it late at night. It got such a favourable 
response from the public that they repeated it twice very shortly 
afterwards and the film became a great success. Inevitably, some of 
the reviews - mainly in Germany - accused me of exploitation. 
Thankfully, several people jumped to the film's defence, including 
Oliver Sacks,^ the neurologist and writer of Awakenings. He loved 
the film so much, and somehow word spread that it was a worthy 


film, I admire Sacks tremendously for giving the film the hacking 
that it needed. 

Aguirre, the Wrath of God was your first international success, a 
film that is held up today as one of the great achievements of Ger- 
man film of the 1970s. But it took some time before the world 
caught on. 

Even though it was my first international success hardly anyone 
actually wanted to see Aguirre when it got its first very limited 
release, and it was difficult to find the money to even make the 
film. It was financed in part by a German television station, Hes- 
sicher Rundfunk, which had the right to screen the film the very 
evening it was released in cinemas in Germany, thus destroying 
any chances of it succeeding theatrically. The rest of the budget 
came from the small revenue I had received from previous films, 
plus a loan from my brother. Everyone else thought it would be a 
difficult script to film and a difficult sell too, so they backed away. 
Once finished, we struggled to sell it at first, but it was finally 
picked up by a French distribution company and played in a cin- 
ema in Paris for so long - two and a half years - that the rest of the 
world took notice. 

In a way, by making Aguirre I set out to create something of a 
commercial film, certainly compared to Signs of Life and Land of 
Silence and Darkness. The film was always intended for the gen- 
eral public and not the strictly art-house crowd. After looking at 
my previous films, it was quite clear that I had been serving only 
the niche market, and with Aguirre I made a conscious effort to 
reach a wider audience. If I could have been absolutely guaranteed 
an audience for the film I would have made it differently, probably 
rougher and less genre-orientated. As it is, the film is probably eas- 
ier to follow than my previous work. The sequence of action, for 
example, is much less subtle than in a film like Signs of Life, and 
there is a real line of demarcation in the film between the good and 
the bad, like in the classic westerns, so the audience can choose 
who they want to root for. 

Aguirre could be viewed almost as a genre film, an all-out 
adventure film that on the surface has all the characteristics of 
the genre but that on a deeper level has something new and more 


complex within. At the time I felt that the film was something of a 
personal test for me. If it failed, I knew I would never be capable 
of making anything that might be seen widely internationally and 
I would have to go back to films like Signs of Life. The film was a 
test of my marginality. I do not know how else to qualily Aguirre, 
except to say that it is a very personal film and is still very much a 
part of my life. 

How did you end up making a film about a little known sixteenth- 
century Spanish adventurer who went in search of El Dorado? 

Well, the film really is not about the real Aguirre. As with Kaspar 
Hauser a few years later, I just took the most basic facts that were 
known about the man and spun my own tale. By chance, at a 
friend's house I found a children's book about adventurers that 
had a very short passage on Lope de Aguirre, a Spanish Conquis- 
tador who went looking for El Dorado and who called himself 
'the wrath of God'. He had initiated a revolt, made himself leader 
of the expedition, declared the King of Spain overthrown, and set 
off dovm the Amazon, only to end up at the Atlantic half starved. 
These few lines really fascinated me and I tried to find out more 
about him but very little is known about his life. There remain 
only a few pages of documents about the man. History is gener- 
ally on the side of the winners, and Aguirre is one of history's 
great losers.3 There are, however, many pieces of literature about 
him - novels and memoirs that talk about him in rather leg- 
endary terms - but no one really knows what is true and what is 
not. For example, I found a translation of Aguirre's letter to 
King Felipe II of Spain in which he curses the BCing, declares him 
dethroned and stripped of all his rights, and proclaims himself 
the new Emperor of El Dorado and New Spain. This letter really 
interested me because of its language, its defiant tone and its 
absolute madness. 

It is difficult for me to explain my feelings about Aguirre as I 
do not like to analyze characters, but merely present them to the 
audience. Aguirre fascinated me because he was the first person 
who dared deiy the Spanish crown and declare the independence 
of a South American nation. At the same time he was completely 
mad, rebelling not only against political power but nature itself. 


In the film he insists that 'When I, Aguirre, want the birds to drop 
dead from the trees, then the birds will drop dead from the trees. I 
am the Wrath of God. The earth I walk upon sees me and trem- 
bles.' At the end of the story it is not just him who is mad, it is the 
whole situation that is demented. There is a strong feeling of 
menace surrounding the characters. You feel them slipping further 
and further into trouble as the film progresses, and in this respect 
the movement of time in Aguirre is more important than in any of 
my other films. It is not something explicable in words: you just 
have to see the film. This is one reason why I was anxious to shoot 
the film in sequence because the chronology of the story is so 
linked to its rhythm. 

Did the other characters we see in the film really exist? 

Many of the characters in the film were invented, or if they did 
exist they were not actually on the expedition seen in the film. I 
just made up characters based on the names I had read in the orig- 
inal documents. The entire script is pure invention, the voice-over 
is a fabricated diary of the monk on the voyage, even though a 
monk with the same name did exist and wrote a diary of a totally 
different expedition. Historians are always asking me where I got 
the documents, and I keep saying that it was in this and that book 
but regrettably I cannot remember the title. 

It does seem that, the characters and even the landscapes are mov- 
ing in a very self-destructive way throughout the film. Aguirre is 
clearly the cause not just of his own downfall, but that of everyone 
else's too. And your use of the voice-over seems to give the whole 
film an almost surreal dimension. 

I am glad that is how it appears to you. Unlike the original few 
pages of documents that still exist from the era, the monk's voice- 
over is written in a kind of detached language. It is unreal to the 
point where the film seems to slow down and become almost 
immobile. In this sense Aguirre has a real sense of rhythm to it. 
The film is about this tremendous military force that steadily 
comes to a standstill, and towards the end a real feeling sets in that 
everyone is moving in circles. 

What interested me about the story was how these Spanish 


Conquistadors set off in search of El Dorado and gradually all 
drifted to their deaths. At the start, there is an army of a thousand 
people, but by the end they are a pathetic handful of sick and 
wounded. The film presents the audience with two opposing 
thoughts: the seemingly clear sense of direction these people are 
moving in, and the fact that they are looking for a place that does 
not even exist. Aguirre's expedition is clearly doomed to failure 
right from the start. We know this - even before the film has 
started - when we read that El Dorado is merely an invention of 
the Indians. So we know that what these people are undertaking is 
almost the mechanical pursuit of defeat and death. Sometimes it 
seems to me that Aguirre is deliberately leading his soldiers to their 
- and his - destruction. It is like a Greek tragedy; at the end it is so 
obvious that he has brought these horrors upon himself. Aguirre 
dares to defy nature to such an extent that nature inevitably takes 
its revenge on him. 

Throughout the film real things seem gradually to acquire unreal 

Yes, they move into delirium and become hallucinatory. There is 
an inner flow to most of my works, one that cannot be followed 
merely with a wristwatch. It is as if the audience is being taken 
directly into the interior of things. You see this throughout the 
film, certainly by the time of Aguirre's revolt against Ursua. 
Watch the scene of Don Fernando de Guzman's 'coronation' 
carefully and you will see that there is a tableau, a highly stylized 
shot where all the characters look directly into the camera, like 
an old photo from the nineteenth century. It is like the shot dur- 
ing the wedding in Signs of Life where the marriage couple and 
their parents are posing for the photographer, all lined up. They 
are staring right into the camera, which in this case happens to 
be our film camera. What I had done was make the actor Peter 
Brogle race me as fast as he could for two kilometres around 
Kos. Everyone else was on set ready to roll while we were run- 
ning back to set at top speed. I quickly tossed Peter a towel for 
him to dry his face and made him line up with the others, telling 
him, 'Stare at the lens and try to suppress your heavy breathing.' 
So he stood there, his face totally disfigured, and when you 


watch the scene you do not really know what is going on with 
the guy. 

These kind of shots are where the film holds its breath. They fee] 
as mystifying and intense to me as to any other spectator, and i am 
convinced it is moments like these that truly decide my films. They 
are the places where the various threads suddenly run together to 
form a knot. They propel the plot forward, even though I do not 
really know how. So the story of Aguirre is presented very unob- 
trusively, moving between what is almost documentary-style film- 
ing and these highly stylized frozen stills. By the end of the film 
even the bird noise and the silences on the soundtrack have taken 
on eerie and illusory qualities. Whenever you hear silence, you 
know there must be Indians around, and that means death. We 
spent weeks recording the birds and the soundtrack was com- 
posed fi-om eight different tracks. There is not a single bird that 
has not been carefully placed as if in a big choir. For the music, I 
described to Florian Fricke what I was searching for, something 
both pathetic and surreal, and what he came up with is not real 
singing, nor is it completely artificial either. It sits uncomfortably 
between the two. 

By the end of the film, when Aguirre is staring into the face of the 
monkey, we're not really sure if this is real or not. 

Yes, it might be a hallucination. The surreal qualities and the fever 
dreams of the jungle have taken over the fantasy of Aguirre and 
everyone around him. Even the way people die in the film is done 
in a kind of stylized operatic way, like Aguirre's daughter who dies 
with no pain, no gore or blood, she just stares up at him. Or 
Ursua's wife, who throughout the entire film has been wearing a 
blue dress. When she walks into the jungle, presumably never to be 
seen again, suddenly she is wearing a beautiful golden royal gown. 
Logic plays no part in this; grandiose stylizations have taken over. 
Or take the scene when they find the boat up in the tree. This 
image might appear unreal, but to the soldiers on the raft - who 
have already completely lost their sense of reality - it does not 
seem so strange. For this shot I wanted a slightly stylized feel and 
so waited for the strange atmosphere that occurs during the rainy 
season when there are very ominous clouds that appear about an 


hour before it starts to pour with rain. Incidentally, that is a real 
boat up there. We built it in five sections, constructed an enormous 
scaffold of about thirty metres around the tree, and hoisted it up 
there. It took twenty-five workmen a week to reassemble it. Who 
knows, it might actually still be up there. 

How did you find the locations? When we were talking about Fata 
Morgana you said that it was important to find the 'rhythm and 
sensuousness' of the desert landscape. Can the same be said of 
jungle landscapes? 

Absolutely. In my films landscapes are never just picturesque or 
scenic backdrops as they often are in Holljwood films. In Aguirre 
the jungle is never some lush, beautiful environment it might be 
in a television commercial. Sometimes when you see the jungle in 
the film it is a reality so strange you cannot trust it, and maybe 
think it is a special effect. The jungle is really all about our 
dreams, our deepest emotions, our nightmares. It is not just a 
location, it is a state of our mind. It has almost human qualities. 
It is a vital part of the characters' inner landscapes. The question 
I asked myself when first confronted by the jungle was 'How 
can I use this terrain to portray landscapes of the mind?' I had 
never been to Peru before filming but had imagined the land- 
scapes and the atmosphere with real precision. It was curious 
because when I arrived there everything was exactly as I had 
imagined it. It was as if the landscapes had no choice: they had to 
fit to my imagination and submit themselves to my ideas of what 
they should look like. 

I like to direct landscapes just as I like to direct actors and 
animals. People think I am joking, but it is true. Often I try to 
introduce into a landscape a certain atmosphere, using sound and 
vision to give it a definite character. Most directors merely exploit 
landscapes to embellish what is going on in the foreground, and 
this is one reason why I like some of John Ford's work. He never 
used Monument Valley as merely a backdrop, but rather to signify 
the spirit of his characters. Westerns are really all about our very 
basic notions of justice, and when I see Monument Valley in his 
films I somehow start to believe - amazingly enough - in American 
justice. I think my ability to understand landscapes comes from 


my grandfather. Like I said, he was an archaeologist and had a 
real instinct for terrain. People had already spent 800 years 
searching for the AsMepieion that he discovered. The last surviv- 
ing workman involved in the dig - the Turk Ahmed who I told you 
wanted me to marry his granddaughter - took me on a tour of an 
enormous flat field on Kos. Other archaeologists had carried out 
excavations in ten different spots there without finding a thing. 
For reasons that are unfathomable, my grandfather chose to dig 
somewhere in the middle of the field and promptly discovered a 
Roman bath. 

Landscapes always adapt themselves to the situations required 
of them. Look at the shots in Nosferatu when the coach returns 
to Wismar with Jonathan. There is a long shot along a causeway 
and on either side are lakes and trees. There is a real 'serenity' 
here; it is an image of real peacefulness and beauty, though at the 
same time there is something very strange about it. And in Even 
Dwarfs Started Small, you can plainly see how important the 
landscapes on Lanzarote are and how they contributed to the 
very stark and menacing feel of the film. The island is a totally 
barren place that was devastated by volcanic eruptions over a 
hundred years ago. It has this stylized quality of a lunar land- 
scape to it. Back then it looked almost black and white with 
barely any vegetation. 

Or look at the shot of the windmills in Signs of Life, where the 
sound was also vitally important. I started by taking the recording 
of nearly a thousand people clapping at the end of a concert and 
distorted it electronically unti) it sounded like wood banging. Then 
I added another sound over it: what you hear in the countryside 
when you put your ear on a telegraph pole and the wind passes 
through the wires. You hear a humming that we children called 
'angel song'. Then I mixed the noise of the banging wood with 
this 'angel song' and used the sound as if it were the windmills. 
This does not change the windmills or the landscape physically, 
but it does change the way we look at them. That is what I tried to 
render: a new and very direct perspective of things that touch us 
deeper than more 'realistic' sounds. 

Does your understanding of landscapes have anything to do with 
the fact that from your very earliest works you have often filmed 


outside of Germany? Films like Signs of Life and Aguirre can 
hardly be said to be 'provincial'. 

It is difficult to explain why I shoot films so far from home. What 
I look for in landscapes in general is a humane spot for man, an 
area worthy of human beings. The search for Utopian landscapes is 
probably an endless one, but I do know that by staying in one 
place I will never find them. Though I do not like most of his films, 
it seems that for Ingmar Bergman^ his starting point is a human 
face. The starting point for many of my films is a landscape, 
whether it be a real place or an imaginary or hallucinatory one 
from a dream, and when I write a script I often describe landscapes 
that I have never seen. I know that somewhere they do exist and I 
have never failed to find them. Actually, maybe I should say that 
the landscapes are not so much the impetus for a film, rather they 
become the film's soul, and sometimes the characters and the story 
come afterwards, always very naturally. 

The landscapes in Aguirre are not there as decoration or to look 
especially exotic. There is profound life there, a sensation of force, 
an intensity that you do not find in movies of the entertainment 
industry where nature is always something artificial. To search for 
locations for Aguirre, I travelled down a few of the tributaries 
because I had to make sure that we had exactly what we needed 
for the film, and discovered that many stretches of the river were 
just too dangerous for a film crew and actors in costumes. Finally, 
I found some very dangerous looking and spectacular rapids - 
though not too dangerous - that could handle the rafts we were 
going to be filming on. 

/ gather that the Aguirre shoot wasn't easy, and the tiny budget and 
small crew didn't help. 

Pre-production was meticulous. We built a kind of encampment 
for 450 people near Rio Urubamba, including the zjo Indians 
from the mountains who were acting as extras. During shooting 
we then moved on to Rio Huallaga where our encampment was 
flooded. Filming took about six weeks, a whole week of which was 
lost when we took the cast and crew from one tributary to another, 
a distance of 1,600 kilometres. Once we arrived at Rio Nanay, we 
were living on the rafts themselves, one of which was used as a 


kitchen. We could not set foot on dry land because in the flat low- 
lands the jungle had been flooded for miles around. All the rafts 
had to float about a mile behind the raft we were shooting on to 
enable us to film the bends in the river without getting any other 
rafts in shot. There were no riverbanks and at night we had to tie 
the rafts into overhanging branches. 

People should remember that the budget on the film was only 
$370,000, a third of which went to Kinski, so I really did not have 
much choice. I could not afford to take too many people with me 
down the river and the whole crew was less than ten people. We 
shot only a very small amount of footage in total, so again it was a 
very low ratio of footage shot to footage that appears in the final 

Sometimes I had to sell my boots or my wristwatch just to get 
breakfast. It was a barefoot film, so to speak, a child of poverty. 
Some of the actors and extras sensed this might be one of the film's 
virtues and wore their costumes all the time, even though they were 
full of mould because of the humidity. But you know, I would have 
spent the entire budget in three days working in a studio. And, of 
course, there is something authentic about the jungle which cannot 
be fabricated. You cannot create the jungle in a studio. There was 
just no alternative to going out there and filming, and sometimes 
things would happen that I would incorporate into the story. One 
time while we were shooting, the river rose by fifteen or twenty feet 
and flooded our locations, sweeping everything away, even some of 
the rafts. I used these problems at the point in the film when the 
Spaniards do not know whether to continue or to advance, build 
new rafts or return to the main expedition. 

What about the scenes as the rafts pass through the rapids? 

It took only two minutes or even less to get through, but we 
absolutely had to get the shot first time. In Hollywood films the 
danger is never real, but in Aguirre the audience can really feel the 
authenticity of the situations the actors are in. Cameraman 
Thomas Mauch and I were the only people on the rafts running 
freely. Everyone else, including the Indian rowers of the rafts, were 
attached by cords to the raft, but this would have been impossible 
for Mauch and myself because we had to be everywhere at all 


times, moving around with the camera. There are some shots in 
the film where you can clearly see the cords that are attached to the 
actors' wrists. 

The first time I went down the rapids was during pre-production 
to see if it was safe enough for the cast and crew. Our raft split in 
two and disintegrated, and one half got caught in a whirlpool. 
What saved us on the other half was getting caught in a strong cur- 
rent that swept us several kilometres away. Of course there were 
many precautions taken to protect the actors and crew, not least 
these very solid wooden rafts built by the Indians who were local 
experts at this kind of thing, and we also had very good rowers. 
Having said that, sometimes they were drunk and had absolutely 
no control over where they were going. One time, the water level 
rose so quickly that a raft was caught in a whirlpool for a couple 
of days and was then smashed into pieces. The scene when the sol- 
diers get caught in the whirlpool and are found dead the next 
morning was very difficult to shoot because the flow of the river 
was so fast and incredibly violent. After a day's shooting we threw 
cords to the actors, who attached them around their waists in 
order to get them safely to the riverbank. The next morning the 
raft would still be there, wrestling with the fierce current. The 
actors were so proud every evening once they reached the shore, 
vomiting because of the incessant turning of the raft, ready to go 
back out there the next day so we could continue shooting. 
There were other problems we had to deal with. About halfway 
through the shoot, it looked as though everything we had shot had 
been lost in transit to Mexico, where all our exposed negative was 
supposed to be processed. Only Mauch, myself and my brother 
Lucki knew about it. We did not tell any of the actors because they 
already had so much to deal with, keeping themselves dry and 
warm out there in the jungle. We knew it was an absurdity to con- 
tinue shooting, but five weeks later all the footage finally showed 
up, sitting outside the customs office under the scorching sun at 
Lima airport. What happened was that the shipping agency had 
bribed customs to stamp the documents so as to prove to us that 
our negative had left the country. 

What about the final sequence of the film with all those monkeys? 


Months before, I had hired local Indians who had captured the 
hundreds of savage little monkeys, the ones who overrun the raft 
with Kinski. I paid only half the money for them because I knew if 
I paid full price, the guy organizing everything would run off with 
the cash. The monkeys had been sitting in Iquitos for weeks, but 
when it came to actually having to use them for the scene it turned 
out they had all been sold to an American businessman and were 
already on a plane waiting to go to the US. We ran to the airport 
and insisted we were veterinarians and that we had to see the vac- 
cination papers for the animals. We shouted so loudly that they 
admitted they had no papers, and they embarrassedly unloaded 
the animals from the plane. We just put them into our truck and 
left. When it actually came to shooting the sequence, the monkeys 
had some kind of a panic attack and bit me all over. I could not cry 
out because we were shooting live sound at that point. 

Just what is it about the jungle that attracts you? 

As a Bavarian I have an affinity for the fertility of the jungle, the 
fever dreams and the physical exuberance of things down there. 
For me, jungles have always represented something of an intensi- 
fied form of reality, though they really are not particularly diffi- 
cult challenges.5 A jungle is just another forest, that is all. It is the 
myth of the travel agencies that they are dangerous places, full of 
hazards. I really would not even know what hazards are out 
there. Snakes run away from you as fast as they can crawl and 
piranhas do not do anything to you unless you do something stu- 
pid. I used to catch them with a little hook and eat them. Right 
after I pulled one out, I would jump into the water and take a 
swim. As long as you are not in stagnant water there is no danger 
from these fish. 

Where did all the costumes and props come from? 

We got them all from a production company that had just shot a 
film in Peru not long beforehand. We shipped boxes of harquebuses 
and pieces of armour from Spain where I finally found everything. 
And jungle transportation was difficult to organize because we had 
to squeeze everything - armour and technical equipment and the 
horse - into one big amphibious plane. 


where did you find the Indians who appear as extras in the film? 

They all came from the mountain areas. I went to a village and 
explained what the film was and what I needed from them. We 
ended up with almost the entire population of the village, a people 
who were very conscientious as they carried out the sometimes 
very difficult tasks. They were well paid compared to what they 
usually earned. 

One time, after filming in the mud and swamps, I noticed that the 
Europeans were exhausted and wanted to call a halt for the day, but 
the Indians asked me why we were stopping. They said It would be 
even more difficult to continue later on, so why not just carry on now 
and finish the job. They understood that what they were working on 
was not only useful for themselves, but for the Indians' cause as a 
whole. They were all part of a socialist co-operative at Lauramarca 
and were very aware of the political situation in Peru. They also had 
a real understanding of their own history, and why things were as 
they were today. One time they told me that the Spanish conquest 
was a real shock for them. It was as If creatures from another planet 
had landed In spaceships and taken over the whole world. This really 
was something that every Indian felt inside of them. 
I dedicated the film to one of the Indians, Hombrecito. I met him 
at the main square of Cusco where he was pla)dng the flute. I never 
knew his real name, but everyone called him Hombrecito, 'Little 
Man'. I liked him so much that I asked him to come with us for the 
shoot. I said I would pay him well, more than what he would earn 
in ten years sitting there playing for people. At first he refused, say- 
ing that If he was to stop playing in the square, everyone in Cusco 
would die. He wore three wool sweaters at the same time which he 
refused to take off as he thought they would be stolen and which 
he said protected 'us poor Indians against the bad breath of the 
Gringos'. A couple of years later I wrote a character called 
Hombrecito for the circus scene in The Enigma ofKaspar Hauser, 
though I used an actor to play the part. 

This was your first collaboration with Kinski. Did you write the 
script with him in mind? 

Most of the screenplay was written on a bus going to Vienna with 
the football team I used to play for. We were a few hours Into the 


trip and everyone was drunk already because we had some beer 
barrels to give to our opponents, but the team had drunk half of it 
before we had even arrived. I was sitting in my seat with my type- 
writer on my lap. Our goalie was leaning over me and was so 
drunk that he finally vomited over my typewriter. Some of the 
pages were beyond repair and I had to throw them out the win- 
dow. There were some fine scenes, but they are long gone. That is 
life on the road for you. Later on, in between the games, I wrote 
furiously for three days and finished the script. 

So the screenplay was written so fast and abruptly and sponta- 
neously that 1 did not think about who might play the part. But the 
moment I finished it I knew it was for Kinski and sent it to him 
immediately. Two nights later, at 3 a.m., I was awakened by the 
phone. At first I could not figure out what was going on. All I heard 
were inarticulate screams at the other end of the line. It was BGnski. 
After about half an hour I managed to filter out from his ranting that 
he was ecstatic about the screenplay and wanted to play Aguirre. 

What was he like on set? 

At the time Kinski had just cut short his infamous 'Jesus Tour', 
scenes of which you can see at the start of My Best Fiend. He 
arrived down in Peru to start filming as this derided, misunder- 
stood Jesus figure who had identified with his role so strongly that 
he felt he needed to continue living it. The shoot was very tough 
and every day Kinski could see the problems I was having. Yet he 
continued to throw tantrums, create scandals or simply scream if a 
mosquito appeared. 

I had known something of his reputation. Kinski was probably 
the most difficult actor in the world to deal with. Working with 
Marlon Brando must have been like kindergarten compared to 
BCinski. During a play he hit someone so hard with a sword that the 
actor was in hospital for three months; another time he threw a 
candelabra into the audience, after having hurled various insults at 
them first. During the shoot of Aguirre, in the middle of a scene, 
he nearly killed another actor when he struck him on the head 
with his sword. Thankfully the man was wearing a helmet, but he 
carries a scar to this very day. And one time the extras had been 
drinking and were making too much noise for Kinski. He 


screamed and yelled at them, grabbed his Winchester rifle and fired 
three bullets through the walls of their hut. There were forty-five 
of them crammed together and one had the top of his finger shot 
off. That Kinski did not kill any of them was a miracle. I imme- 
diately confiscated his rifle which I still own. It is one of my big 
souvenirs from him. 

During filming he would insult me every single day for at least 
two hours. Kinski had seen Even Dwarfs Started Small and so for 
him I was the 'dwarf director'. A term of abuse. He cried in a high- 
pitched shrill voice in front of everyone, insisting that it was an 
absolute insult that I would even think about directing him, the 
great actor. I would always just stand there in silence. 

How did he react to being in the jungle? 

Kinski arrived during pre-production with half a ton of alpine 
equipment - tents, sleeping bags, ice axes - as he badly wanted to 
expose himself to the wilds of nature. Actually his ideas about 
nature were rather insipid. Mosquitoes were not allowed in his 
jungle, nor was rain. The first night after setting up his tent it 
started to rain and naturally he got wet, so immediately he had one 
of his raving fits. The next day we built a roof of palm trees above 
his tent. Still discomforted, he moved into the one single hotel in 
Machu Picchu. We would all drink river water, but Kinski had the 
privilege of mineral water. 

We never agreed without a struggle. Temperamentally, he was 
inclined to hysteria, but I managed to harness this and turn it to 
productive ends. Sometimes other methods were necessary. There 
was one occasion on the Rio Nanay towards the end of the shoot 
when, as was usual when he did not know his lines properly, he 
was looking for a victim to jump on. Suddenly he started shouting 
like crazy at the sound assistant. "You swine! You were grinning!' 
He told me I should fire the guy on the spot, but I said, 'No, of 
course I am not going to fire him, the whole crew would quit out 
of solidarity.' So BCinski left the set and started packing his things, 
sajdng he was going to get into a speedboat and leave. I went up to 
him very calmly and said, 'You cannot do this. You cannot leave 
the film before it is finished. The film is more important than our 
personal feelings. It is even more important than our private lives. 


Aguirre, the Wrath of God 


It is not acceptable for you to do this.' I told him I had a rifle and 
that he would only make it as far as the next bend in the river 
before he had eight bullets in his head. The ninth would be for me. 
He instinctively knew that this was not a joke any more and 
screamed for the police like a madman. The next police station 
was at least 300 miles away though. I would not allow him to walk 
off the film. He knew that I was serious, and for the remaining ten 
days of the shoot he was very docile and well behaved. 

Yet I'm sure you feel even today that he was the only person who 
could ever have played the role ofAguirre. 

Absolutely, he was an excellent actor and truly knew how to move 
on screen. I wanted to make Aguirre a man with a vicious little 
hump. Finally I dropped the idea, but did want there to be a dif- 
ferentiation between Aguirre's movements and everyone else's. The 
character had to have some kind of inner distortion that could be 
seen on the surface, so we decided to make one of his arms seem 
longer than the other. And since his left hand was so short, his 
sword was never around his waist, but was almost up into his 
armpit. I introduced these physical aberrations into the film grad- 
ually and with real precision, and so at the end of the film Aguirre 
is even more deformed. And Kinski did it all perfectly. When you 
first see him, he walks almost like a spider, like a crab walking on 
sand. As an actor, Kinski really knew about costumes, and I 
learned a great deal from him as I watched him oversee every sin- 
gle buttonhole. and stitch. 

No one could have tamed Kinski as well as I did towards the end 
of Aguirre, and even though for a couple of years afterwards he said 
he hated the film, eventually he ended up liking it very much. Sure, 
the man was a complete pestilence and a nightmare to work with, 
but who cares? What is important are the films we made together. 

The opening shot of the film is truly spectacular. Was that in the 
script or did you just stumble across the mountain and decide to 
film there? 

Actually, the original script had a different beginning to the fin- 
ished film. I had planned a scene on a glacier at an altitude of 
17,000 feet that started with a long procession of altitude-sick pigs 


tottering towards the camera. Only after a few minutes of follow- 
ing this line of animals would the audience realize that they are 
part of a Spanish army of adventurers, accompanied by hundreds 
of Indian auxiliaries. Unfortunately, many crew members got 
altitude sickness for real and I had to abandon the idea. 
We filmed it near Machu Picchu, on the side of a mountain that 
had a sheer vertical drop of 600 metres. It is thick jungle up there, 
though the Incas had dug out an immense staircase in the rocks, 
which is the trail the hundreds of people in the shot are using as 
they come out of the clouds. The scene was very difficult to film. 
We started transporting everyone at 2 a.m. - the horses, the pigs, 
the llamas and the cannons up there - and when I finally arrived at 
the top of the mountain it was pouring with rain, there was dense 
fog and the whole valley was completely enshrouded in cloud. You 
could not see anything, except grey clouds. It was indescribable 
chaos, extremely slippery and quite dangerous to have so many 
extras up there, something like 450 people. All the native Indians 
that you see came from the highlands, from an altitude of 14,000 
feet, but many of them still got vertigo. We had to somehow secure 
the extras who suffered from vertigo with ropes along this path 
until shooting was over. I spent much of the time trying to per- 
suade everyone to stay. I must have run up and down those steps 
instructing people what to do three or four times. Somehow, I 
managed to convince them that this was something special and 
extraordinary, so that a couple of hours later I thanked God every- 
one was still there as the fog and clouds suddenly opened up on 
one side of the mountain. We shot it only once, this line of people 
with the fog on one side, the mountain on the other. As the camera 
turned, I had a very profound feeling as if the grace of God was 
with this film and with me. It was as if I were witnessing the start 
of something extraordinary. It was on this day that I definitely 
came to know my own destiny. 

But Kinski realized that he would be a mere dot in the landscape 
and not the centre of attention. He wanted to act in close-up with a 
grim face leading the entire army, so I had to explain to him that he 
was not yet the leader of the expedition. In the end I just removed 
him from the shot, because I also had the feeling that the scene 
would be far more powerful if there were no human faces in it. 
What's more, our concepts of the landscape differed profoundly. 


He wanted the shot to embrace all of scenic Machu Picchu, includ- 
ing the peak, just like a Hollywood-style postcard movie, with the 
landscape as a beautiful backdrop, exploited for the scene. It would 
have been just like a television commercial or a postcard. But I 
wanted an ecstatic detail of that landscape where all the drama, 
passion and human pathos became visible. He just did not under- 
stand this, but for me it was something crucial. 

What about the suggestions from several critics that the film is 
some kind of metaphor of Nazism, with Aguirre inevitably play- 
ing the role of Hitler? Or that it is shot through with elements of 
German Romanticism? 

I can answer that question only by sasdng that in Germany a great 
many writers, artists and filmmakers are very much misunderstood 
because their work is seen explicitly in the light of their nation's 
history. These are misunderstandings that lie in wait around every 
corner for Germany's artists. Of course I, like most Germans, am 
very conscious of my country's history. I am even apprehensive 
about insecticide commercials, and know there is only one step 
from insecticide to genocide. Hitler's heritage to the German peo- 
ple has made many of us hypersensitive, even today. But with 
Aguirre there was never any intention to create a metaphor of 

You'd worked with Thomas Mauch previously on Signs of Life and 
Even Dwarfs Started Small. Was your approach for the jungle 
shoot any different? 

Not really. For Aguirre I wanted to use a hand-held camera for a 
good part of the shooting. It was the physical contact the camera 
had with the actors that was one of the keys to the look of the 
film. Like I said earlier, Mauch and I have had a very close rela- 
tionship while working, and on this film we were almost like 
Siamese twins, always moving in sjoic. 

Though we have not worked together since Fitzcarraldo, for 
years after Aguirre I did not need even to explain to Mauch what I 
wanted in certain shots because he just intuitively knew. For the 
final shot of Aguirre, we both got into a speedboat that moved 
around the raft several times. I manoeuvred it myself, just like 


when I drove the van through the desert in Fata Morgana. When a 
speedboat approaches a raft at sixty kilometres per hour it creates 
an enormous wake, which meant we had to move through the 
waves we were creating. I had to feel with my whole body what the 
waves were doing as I approached the raft, and the whole process 
is a good example of what I mean when I talk about filmmaking 
being a very physical act. During pre-production I was able to 
develop a strong feeling for the currents of the river - vital if we 
were going to shoot there - only after helping construct a raft and 
travelling down the Amazon rapids myself. Aguirre dares defy 
nature to such an extent that this itself became a central element to 
the way the film was made, and Aguirre became a truly athletic- 
venture. It was a purely tactile and corporeal understanding I was 
searching for, one that made the entire film possible for me. 
The whole of Aguirre was shot with just one camera, which 
meant we were forced to work in a very simple and even crude 
way during the shooting. I feel that this added to the authenticity 
and life of the film. There was none of the glossy multi-camera 
sophistication you find in Hollywood films. In my opinion this is 
the reason Aguirre has survived for so long. It is such a basic film, 
you really cannot strip it down any more than it already is. The 
camera was actually the one I stole from the predecessor to the 
Munich Film School. I wanted them to lend me one but had to 
endure an arrogant refusal, so I liberated the machine for an indef- 
inite period. They had a row of cameras sitting on a shelf, but 
never actually gave any out to aspiring young filmmakers. One 
day I found myself alone in this room next to the unlocked cabi- 
net and walked out with one. It was a very simple 35-mm camera, 
one I used on many other films, so I do not consider it theft. For 
me it was truly a necessity. I wanted to make films and needed a 
camera; I had some sort of natural right to this tool. If you need 
air to breathe and you are locked in a room, you have to take a 
chisel and hammer and break down the wall. It is your absolute 

As a child, ski-jumping was very important to you. What is it about 
the sport that so excites you, and what gave you the idea to make 
The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner? 


I have never made a distinction between my feature films and my 
'documentaries'. For me, they are all just films, and The Great 
Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner is definitely one of my most impor- 
tant films. 

I have always felt very close to ski-jumpers. I literally grew up on 
skis and, like all the kids in Sachrang, dreamt about becoming a 
great ski-jumper and national champion. This was until a friend of 
mine had a horrifying accident. Then, suddenly, with Swiss ski- 
jumper Walter Steiner there was someone who could fly like a bird, 
someone who could physically experience everything I once 
dreamed of: overcoming gravity. I wrote to Steiner, because to me 
he was absolutely the greatest of his generation. The man is also a 
woodcarver by profession and has left his art on hidden tree 
stumps up in the mountains where he lives. He would find a tree 
trunk and carve something in it; a face filled with horror perhaps. 
Some hikers apparently once found some of them, but many 
remain undiscovered, and very few people know where they are. 
Steiner wrote back to me and kindly suggested we meet at his place 
in Switzerland. Though he is an introverted, taciturn man I had an 
instant rapport with him, and he understood my intentions very 
quickly. I told him that when I saw him as a seventeen-year-old in 
competitions trailing far behind all the others, I said to my friends, 
'I will point out to you the next world champion.' And Steiner 
became world champion twice just a few years later. Even the net- 
work for whom I made the film kept on calling me during the 
shooting, telling me that in the previous events he ended up in 3 5th 
place and asking if I wouldn't rather choose a different jumper for 
the film. But I knew this man-was the greatest of them all. On the 
gigantic ramp at Planica he outflew everyone and even had to start 
lower down than everyone else, otherwise he would have landed 
on the flat and been killed. 

Something interesting about The Great Ecstasy was that 
though shooting occurred pretfy much without mishap, the film 
was still not totally clear in my mind. I had found it very difficult 
to get Steiner to really open up to me in front of the camera, and 
I really was not completely sure as to what I was going to do with 
all the footage I had. Then one evening I was with him and the 
crew and we grabbed him, hoisted him on our shoulders and ran 
through the streets with him. He looked down at me and said, 


'Why are you doing this?' 'Because I know there is no greater one 
than you in this sport,' i said. I could feel the weight of his thigh 
on my shoulder. At that moment the film suddenly became quite 
clear for me because of this immediate physical sensation with 
the man. I know it sounds strange, but only after this did I truly 
respond to all these shots we had of him fljang through the air 
and understand how to use them properly. After this, he also 
seemed to be more comfortable talking on camera. It was as if he 
had reacted to this physical contact himself. It still was not easy 
to dig into him with words, but I did feel a newfound connection 
after this. 

What exactly is the 'great ecstasy'? 

Ecstasy in this context is something you would know if you had 
ever ski-jumped. You can see it in the faces of the flyers in the film 
as they sweep past the camera, mouths agape, these incredible 
expressions on their faces. Most of them cannot fly without their 
mouths open, something which gives such a beautiful ecstatic feel 
to the whole movement. 

Ski-jumping is not just an athletic pursuit, it is something very 
spiritual too, a question of how to master the fear of death and iso- 
lation. It is a sport that is at least partially suicidal, and full of utter 
solitude. A downhill racer might still be able to stop himself if he 
needs to, but when jumpers start down that track nothing can stop 
them. It is as if they are flying into the deepest, darkest abyss there 
is. These are men who step outside all that we are as human 
beings, and overcoming this mortal fear, the deep anxiety these 
men go through, this is what is so striking about ski-jumpers. And 
it is rarely muscular athletic men up there on the ramps; always it 
is young kids with deathly pale pimply complexions and an 
unsteady look in their eyes. They dream they can fly and want to 
step into this ecstasy which pushes against the laws of nature. In 
this way I always felt that Steiner was a close brother of Fitzcar- 
raldo, a man who also defies the laws of gravity by pulling a ship 
over a mountain. 

We had five cameramen and special cameras which could shoot 
in extreme slow motion, at something like four or five hundred 
fi-ames a second. Shooting at this speed on film is a real challenge. 


Within a few seconds the entire reel had shot through the camera, 
which also meant the cameramen had to pan violently to follow 
the trajectory of the jumpers, at the same time focusing to and fro. 
An enormous amount of power was needed to control these 
machines and they all did an excellent job. 

Was it difficult to get Steiner to tell the tale of the raven? It is a very 
powerful story, especially when we remember that earlier in the 
film he talks of how as a child he 'kept on dreaming of flying'. 

I went through his family album and found a picture of him as a 
kid with a raven. I asked him about it, and he just turned the page 
over and said, 'Yes, I had that raven once.' And I turned back the 
page and said, "There is something about this raven. Tell me.' It 
took me three more attempts on different days before he agreed to 
tell the emotional story about this raven. You can see how uncom- 
fortable he is when he explains that when he was twelve his only 
friend was a raven that he reared on bread and milk. Both the 
raven and Steiner were embarrassed by their friendship, so the 
raven would wait for him far away from the schoolhouse, and 
when all the other kids were gone it would fly on to his shoulder 
and together they would walk through the forest. The raven 
started losing its feathers and the other ravens started pecking it 
almost to death. They injured it so much that Steiner had to shoot 
it. 'It was torture to see him being harried by his ovm kind because 
he couldn't fly any more,' he says. From that scene I cut to Steiner 
flying in slow motion. It is a shot that lasts more than a minute, 
and a text appears that is based on words by Robert Walser: T 
should be all alone in this world, I, Steiner, and no other living 
being. No sun, no culture, I naked on a high rock, no storm, no 
snow, no streets, no banks, no money, no time and no breath. Then 
I wouldn't be afraid any more.' 

The story with the raven made such an impression on me that 
a couple of years later I made a little film called No One Will 
Play with Me in which Martin, a young boy, explains to his class- 
mate Nicole that he has a raven at home called Max. The film 
was made both with and for pre-school children and is partially 
based on true stories that I heard from the children themselves. 
Just like with The Flying Doctors of East Africa, I was interested 


in learning more about how young and troubled children perceive 
things and before filming started I showed some paintings to the 
children. The results were very revealing and mysterious. I remem- 
ber one, an Italian renaissance painting which had in the back- 
ground an entire city with castles and harbours and hundreds of 
people weaseling around unloading ships, all sorts of things going 
on. I would project a slide of the picture for maybe ten seconds and 
then turn it off and ask the children, 'What have you seen?' And 
four or five of them in one voice shouted, 'A horse! A horse!' 
'Where on earth is the horse?' I said to myself. So I put the slide 
back on and searched. 'Down there!' they all shouted. And yes, in 
the corner of the picture was a single horse and a single horseman 
with a lance. It makes me think to this very day. 

What's with your use of animals? From the earliest days with the 
unseen Game in the Sand, to the kneeling dromedary in Even 
Dwarfs Started Small and the monkeys in Aguirre, you have ani- 
mals all over your films. My favourite is the monkey who gets 
slapped in Woyzeck. 

Ah, yes! He is a fine one. I knew you were going to ask me this, and 
I have to say that I do not have a decent answer for you. Please do 
not ask me to explain. Sure, I like to use animals in the films, and 
I find it interesting to work with them. I also like to watch those 
wacky television programmes where people send in videos of their 
crazy cat or their piano-playing hamster, things like that. But the 
last thing I have is an abstract concept to explain how a particular 
animal signifies this or that. I just know they have an enormous 
weight in my films, and some of the most hilarious performances I 
have ever seen are from animals. 

In almost every one of my films you can probably find animals. 
The creature that everyone seems to remember is the dancing 
chicken at the end of Stroszek. About fifteen years before I had 
seen this ridiculous freak show at a Cherokee reservation in 
North Carolina and the creature stuck in my mind. I knew that I 
would have to go back there to shoot. At the time when we 
wanted to film Stroszek, all the animals that were usually there 
had been taken somewhere warm, so three months before we 
arrived I spoke to the people who trained the birds to dance this 


barnyard shuffle. Usually the chicken would dance for only about 
five seconds and pick up a grain of corn after you put a quarter 
into the machine. I needed it to go on and on as long as possible 
and this took some weeks of intensive training. Look again at that 
scene and you will also see a manic rabbit jumping all over a toy 
fire truck, and a duck playing the drums. No one liked the chicken 
at the time. The whole crew was disgruntled and did not want to 
shoot it and asked whether we were really going to shoot such shit 
after spending so much time on this stupid film. 'Should we really 
turn the camera on for this rubbish?' Mauch said. I said to him, 
'This is something very big. It looks unobtrusive when you see it 
with the naked eye in front of you, but don't you see that there is 
something big about it, something that is far beyond what we 
are?' And perhaps a great metaphor too, though for what I could 
not say. 

You're obsessed with chickens, aren't you? 

You might be right. Look into the eyes of a chicken and you will 
see real stupidity. It is a kind of bottomless stupidity, a fiendish stu- 
pidity. They are the most horrifying, cannibalistic and nightmarish 
creatures in this world. In Even Dwarfs Started Small we observed 
some chickens trjdng to cannibalize each other. And in a couple of 
my films. Signs of Life and Kaspar Mauser, I show how you can 
taunt chickens by hj^DUOtising them. 

Years ago I was searching for the biggest rooster I could find and 
heard about a guy in Petaluma, California, who had owned a roos- 
ter called Weirdo that weighed thirty pounds. Sadly Weirdo had 
passed away, but his offspring were alive, and guess what? They 
were even bigger. I went out there and found Ralph, son of Weirdo, 
who weighed an amazing thirty- two pounds! Then I found Frank, 
a special breed of miniature horse that stood less than two feet 
high. I told Frank's owner I wanted to film Ralph chasing Frank - 
with a midget riding him - around the biggest sequoia tree in the 
world, thirty metres in circumference. It would have been amazing 
because the horse and the midget together were still smaller than 
Ralph, the rooster. But unfortunately Frank's owner refused. He 
said it would make Frank, the horse, look stupid. 



1 Helen Keller (1880-1968, USA) was blinded and deafened aged 
nineteen montlis old due to a severe fever. Like Helen Keller, Fini 
Straubinger used a tactile language tapped out on to her hand, 
though unlike Fini, Keller learned how to read braille. Keller eventu- 
ally graduated with honours from Radcliffe College in 1904. After 
her death the organization Helen Keller International was established 
to fight against blindness in the developing world. Her book The 
Story o f My Life is stiU in print. 

2 Oliver Sacks (b. 1933, UK) is a Professor of Neurology in New York. 
He has written several books, including Awakenings (1973, the basis 
of the 1991 film with Robin Williams playing Sacks) and The Man 
Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985). See Chapter 4, footnote 6. 

3 See Aguirre by Stephen Minta (Jonathan Cape, 1991) for more on 
the 'real' Conquistador Lope de Aguirre, a Basque adventurer who in 
the late 1550s went in search of El Dorado. 

4 Ingmar Bergman (b. 1918, Sweden) is the director of many films 
including The Seventh Seal (1957), Persona (1966) and Fanny & 
Alexander (1982). See Bergman on Bergman (Da. Capo Press, 1993). 

5 See Chapter 5, footnote 2. 


4 Athletics and AesthetiG 

One idea that has appeared again and again throughout our con- 
versations is something you've nicely boiled down to a Herzog 
maxim: 'Filmmaking is athletics over aesthetics. ' 

As I said earlier, I was a ski-jumper when I was a boy. Under 
normal circumstances, when taking off from a ramp you would 
hold your head back when falling, but we would thrust our 
heads forward like when taking a dive. This is meant to neutral- 
ize the pressure of the air which tends to push you backwards. It 
is like someone who takes a suicidal jump from a great height, 
and then regrets his decision when he realizes, midway through 
empty space, that no one can help him. It is the same with film- 
making. Once you have started, there is no one to help you 
through. You have to overcome your fears and bring the project 
to an end. 

Everyone who makes films has to be an athlete to a certain 
degree because cinema does not come from abstract academic 
thinking; it comes from your knees and thighs. And also being 
ready to work twenty-hour days. Anyone who has ever made a 
film - and most critics never have - already knows this. I try to do 
as much pre-production myself - notably location scouting - when 
making my films. I am very good at understanding and reading 
maps, and I can figure out from a good map where I would find at 
least a good target area for the landscapes and locations I am 
searching for. Of course, it is impossible to do everything and I 
have a team of very committed assistants and producers when I am 
working. But I have learned the hard way that it is important to 
know as best I can what might be waiting for me on location. 


There are always surprises on a film set, but if I have done my 
homework well enough I will always have some idea of what I can 
expect in the coming weeks. There are always great opposing 
forces on a film set, and if in pre-production I see that my original 
plans are not possible, I will immediately alter the scene. 
I have often said that I like to carry prints of my films. They 
weigh forty-five pounds when tied together with a rope. It is not 
altogether pleasant to carry such bulky objects, but I love to pick 
them out of a car and take them into the projection room. What a 
relief to first feel the weight and then let the heaviness drop away; it 
is the final stage of the very physical act of filmmaking. And I never 
use a megaphone when I direct, I just speak as loudly as I need to be 
heard, though I am careful never to shout. I never use a viewfinder 
either and I am careful never to point. I will continue to make films 
only as long as I am physically whole. I would rather lose an eye 
than a leg. Truly, if I were to lose a leg tomorrow, I would stop film- 
making, even if my mind and my sight were still solid. 

You talked about your love of ski-jumping and playing for a foot- 
ball team in Munich. Have you always had this fascination with 
things physical? 

Athletics is something that I have been involved with all my life. 
Until I had a severe accident, I was a soccer player and skier, yet 
when I make a film people always seem to think that it is the result 
of some sort of abstract academic understanding of story develop- 
ment, or some intellectual theory as to how 'the narrative' should 
work, .When I am directing I feel like a football coach who has 
given his team tactics for the whole game but knows that it is vital 
the players react to any unexpected situations. Knowing how to use 
the space around me really was my only quality as a low-class foot- 
baller. I played for a bottom division football team for years and 
would score lots of goals even though technically almost everyone 
was a better and faster player than I was. But I was always able to 
read the game and would often end up in the spot where the ball 
would land. When I would score I would never actually see the goal 
posts and the bar, yet somehow I knew where the goal was. If I had 
seriously started to think about what I was doing, my game would 
have crumbled in a split second and the ball would have been 


blocked by five defensive players. It is the same with making a film. 
If you see something, you should not allow much time for structural 
deliberation. Just head into it physically, without fear. 
When shooting interiors, for example, I always work very 
closely with the set designer and together we might move a lot of 
heavy furniture, for example pushing the piano into this or that 
corner to see if it feels right. If not, I will just move it again. To 
physically rearrange furniture in a room gives me the physical 
knowledge necessary to operate within that space. It is this kind of 
knowledge - that of total orientation within a space - which has 
decided many an important battle for me. As the director on a film 
set it is vital to know about the space you are shooting in so that 
when the cast and crew arrive you already know exactly what lens 
is needed for the shot and where the camera needs to go. With such 
things taken care of I can very quickly arrange the actors in front 
of the camera so no time is wasted. 

There is a short scene in The Enigma ofKaspar Hauser that was 
filmed in a garden where we worked for six months during pre- 
production. Before we got there it was a potato patch. I planted 
strawberries and beans and flowers myself so that not only did it 
have a feel for the kinds of landscaped gardens of the era, but 
when it came to filming I knew exactly where every single plant 
and vegetable was and precisely how to move through the space. 
Or take Kaspar's death scene where there are people standing 
around his bed. There is a perfect balance within the space, a per- 
fect arrangement and tableau of people, but it was staged in sec- 
onds with no pre-planned aesthetic. Even if I had given you three 
days to move people around to find a more balanced image, you 
would not have succeeded in filling that space more effectively. The 
final result was borne out of my immediate and total physical 
knowledge of the room we were shooting in, of exactly what the 
actors looked like in costume and where they were standing, of 
where the camera was and what lens we were using. 

Do you generally try to avoid working in studios? 

For my entire career as a director I have avoided filming in stu- 
dios, something I feel kills the spontaneity that is so necessary 
for the kind of cinema I want to create. My kind of filmmaking 


cannot be created in a constrictive studio atmosphere, and the 
only day I ever spent in a studio was to film a blue-screen shot for 
Invincible wdth the boy fl5'ing up into the air. The world of the 
studio rarely offers any surprises to the director; in part, because 
you run only into people you have paid to be there. There is no 
environment, only four solid walls and a roof. One other thing 
that I never do - that inevitably destroys the spontaneity needed on 
a film set - is to storyboard the action. Coincidences always hap- 
pen if you keep your mind open, while storyboards remain the 
instruments of cowards who do not trust in their own imagination 
and who are the slaves of a matrix. 

My approach to every scene is that from the start I know in 
general what I want, but still allow the action to develop naturally 
without knowing exactly what camera angles and how many shots 
will be needed. If a scene develops differently from my original 
idea because of 'external' elements - the weather, the environment, 
the actors working with each other, things like this - but does so 
organically and vnthout major deviation from the original story, I 
will generally try to encompass those new elements into the scene. 
As a filmmaker, you must be open to those kinds of opportunities. 
In fact, I do actively welcome them. My cinema is killed stone dead 
without the outside world to react to, and it is the same when I 
work as an opera director. As any stage actor or singer will tell 
you, each performance has a different form of life to it and room 
must be given to allow these changes to grow, otherwise the life 
that is there dies painfully. 

What about letting the actors improvise during a scene? Is there 
any room for that? 

Though I have no advance technical vision of the specific shots 
required for a scene, I always have a very strong idea as to what 
the scene is about. Normally I start working with the actors, 
placing them in the scene, seeing how it might work out if, for 
example, he is standing over here and she is sitting over here, and 
what would happen if they move about. After placing the actors, I 
will work closely with the cinematographer to determine where 
the camera should be and what movements, if any, are required 
during the scene. In Invincible there is a scene in the circus when 


Zishe challenges the famous circus strongman. The continuity girl 
kept bothering me by asking over and over, 'How many shots are 
we going to do now?' I kept sajdng to her, 'How would I know?' 
After a while I told her to be quiet and watch the scene along with 
everyone else. 'Just let it develop. Let's see what they do and how 
long it takes them,' I told her. I do not want to suggest that I 
improvise my films, because I do not. But there is a somewhat 
wider margin for the unexpected in my work than usual. For that 
scene in Invincible we actually shot four and half minutes contin- 
uously and it was so good we needed only a couple of cut-aways to 
the audience here and there to trim it down a little, i knew that the 
two strongmen were very good friends who knew each other from 
previous competitions, and I had explained to them exactly what I 
wanted for the scene. At every stage they knew where each was 
leading the other and what the next move was going to be, so I just 
let the scene develop naturally. 

When I write a screenplay I am always conscious that things will 
change - characters might even be added - once we start shooting, 
so I will never slavishly fill page after page with lines of dialogue. 
In my early screenplays some of the key speeches were there, but 
generally no more than that. It is important to allow real life and 
real images to fill up the film at a later stage. Rather than having 
the dialogue word for word, the script will 'describe' the dialogue 
and it might contain scene titles, for example, 'Descent into 
Urubama Valley'. For The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, much of the 
dialogue was written as the lights were being positioned and 
when I was sitting on the set, as the actors simply needed their 
dialogue. Leaving the writing until the last minute means it is full 
of life and will inevitably fit much more comfortably into the phys- 
ical situation that is before us: the actor sitting there in costume 
amidst the set. 

And I gather you don't touch the screenplay until the first day of 

No, because I do not want to engage my mind day after day with 
the writing. This means that when I pick it up on the set, some- 
times months and months later, the material is as fresh for me as it 
is for everyone else. 


More recently I have written screenplays with more dialogue in 
them, but as usual have changed a good deal en route. I listen to 
the lines when spoken by the actors and might decide to modiiy 
them or ask the actor how he would say a particular sentence in his 
own words. I trust their judgement on things like this; actors have 
always been very valuable collaborators. If during this process 
there are slight mistakes in the dialogue, but the feel and spirit 
of the scene remains the same, then I can accept such mistakes. 
Kinski was such a talent that I would give him more space than 
most to make up lines. Very often he needed this space, for exam- 
ple in the bell tower sequence of Fitzcarraldo. I did not tell him 
how to ring the bells; the only thing I said was that he had to be in 
complete ecstasy and fury, and that he needed to shout down into 
the town and explain to everyone the church would be closed until 
the town had an opera house. But how he would shout it and in 
which direction, Kinski himself did not know until he did it. Some- 
times, of course, he needed very strong restrictions and needed to 
be reined in. 

Let me also talk briefly about working with my cameramen. I 
hate perfectionists behind the camera, those people who spend 
hours setting up a single shot. I need people who really see things, 
who really feel them as they are and not someone so concerned 
about getting the most beautiful possible images. I always bring 
the cinematographer with me to the locations before shooting. For 
Signs of Life in Greece I said to the crew, 'For three days we are not 
going to shoot anything at all.' I told the actors, 'Walk up and 
down the fortress walls, touch the rocks around you, feel every- 
thing there is to feel around you. You have to know the taste of 
these rocks, feel their smooth surfaces, get to know it all. Only 
then can we start to film.' And it is the same thing for the camera- 
man: somehow, he has to feel ever)1:hing very physically with his 
whole body even though he never actually touches anj^hing. Of 
course, occasional shots are obviously planned in advance. A good 
example is towards the end of Invincible when the strongman is 
dying in hospital. He rises out of bed because he hears piano music 
and says, 'My ears are ringing. Somebody must be thinking of me.' 
He looks towards the window, and his kid brother gets out of his 
chair, pushes the curtain aside and outside, through the window, 
we see his five-year-old sister who is looking at us. 


So there is rarely a pre-planned aesthetic concept behind any of 
your films? 

No, I am not concerned with aesthetics, and when it comes to 
working with cinematographers there has rarely been any kind of 
discussion over the look of the film. I always just say to the cam- 
eraman, 'Do not worry about centring the image or making it look 
nice, do not look for good colours.' If you get used to planning 
your shots based solely on aesthetics, you are never that far from 
kitsch. Of course, though I have rarely attempted to inject aes- 
thetic elements into a particular scene or film, they might well 
enter unconsciously by the back door simply because my prefer- 
ences inevitably impact upon the decisions I make in some way. 
Somehow I know how to articulate the images on film without 
resorting to endless discussions about lighting or spending millions 
on production design. It is just like you 'knowing' how to write a 
letter. When you look at a completed letter you immediately see 
your longhand does have a particular style all of its own that has 
somehow seeped in of its own accord. So the aesthetic - if it does 
exist - is to be discovered only after the film is finished. And I leave 
it to the aestheticians to enlighten me about things like this. 
On set there is never any discussion about what a particular 
scene or shot 'means' or why we are 'doing it a certain way'. What 
is important is getting the shot in the can, and that is all. I think 
that this kind of approach was a strong influence on the Dogme 95 
movement who, like me, would rather work with a tiny crew and 
low-level equipment. 

But I can think of several examples in your films of what seems to 
be experimentation with the imagery. What about the dream 
sequences in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, /or example? 

Of course there are moments in my films that have been planned 
in advance or where I have experimented with the imagery. These 
are moments that I see as absolutely quintessential in the context 
of the film as a whole, and maybe the best example is the trance- 
like dream sequences in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. In these 
images of this newly discovered foreign world there are certain 
aesthetic influences. One side would be Stan Brakhage, the other is 
experimental German filmmaker Klaus Wyborny.^ When I went to 


the Spanish Sahara, I took Wyborny along and he shot some of the 
dream footage. For Kaspar's vision of the people scaling the moun- 
tainous rock face, we went to the west coast of Ireland. Every year 
there is a great procession on this foggy mountain, the Croagh 
Patrick, with over 50,000 people. The finest of the dream 
sequences in the film was actually shot by my brother Lucki when 
he was travelling in Burma as a nineteen-year-old. He filmed what 
he described to me as a strange and imperfect pan across a huge 
valley full of grandiose temples but did not like it at all. I thought 
it was so beautiful and mysterious, absolutely tremendous, and 
begged him to give it to me. I modified the image by projecting it 
with high intensity on to a semi-transparent screen from very close 
distance so that the image on the screen would be the size of my 
palm. And then I filmed it with a 35-mm camera from the other 
side so the texture of the screen itself can be seen in the image. The 
flickering effect and the moving in and out of darkness occurred 
because I did not synchronize the projector and the camera. 

What about a genre film like Nosferatu where light and darkness 
play such an important role in the look of the film? 

That film is probably the one major exception to my lack of inter- 
est in aesthetics. I felt that a certain amount of respect had to be 
paid to the classical formulae of cinematic genres, in this case the 
vampire film. The final shot of the film was on a vast beach in 
Holland. There was a storm - the sand was flying ever3rwhere - 
and I looked up to see these incredible clouds in the sky. We filmed 
them in single exposures, one frame every ten seconds, which 
means they are moving very fast on screen, and then we reversed 
the shot as if the clouds were hanging from a dark sky into the 
landscape. It gave the whole thing a feeling of doom, and in using 
this process to reverse the shot I can hardly deny that I was 
attempting to create a specific look - or 'aesthetic' if you would 
prefer to call it - for the film. 

I did spend time talking to Schmidt-Reitwein about how to styl- 
ize the images in Nosferatu because it was such an essential part of 
the story itself. I worked with him on Fata Morgana, Land of 
Silence and Darkness, Kaspar Fiauser and Heart of Glass. He has 
a very good feeling for darkness and threatening shadows and 


gloom, in part I suspect because just after the Berlin Wall went up 
he was caught smuggling his girlfriend out of the East and was 
placed into solitary confinement for several months. I think this 
experience has formed much of what the man is today. Once these 
guys emerge from underground they see the world with different 
eyes. Let me say too that Thomas Mauch is the cameraman I go to 
when I need something more physical. He has a phenomenal phys- 
ical sense for the rhythm of what is unfolding before him. He was 
the one who shot Signs of Life, Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo. Some- 
times there have been difficult choices to make about which of 
these fine cameramen to work with on particular films, but I think 
I have made the right choices over the years. For example, if I had 
taken Schmidt-Reitwein to the jungle for Fitzcarraldo the camera 
would probably have been a lot more static, and we would have 
stylized certain scenes with elaborate lighting. 

There are very few close-ups in your films. There's the one that 
opens Cobra Verde, maybe a couple in Signs of Life, but generally 
you seem to keep away from the actors. 

No, it is not that I strive to keep away from them. It is rather that 
there is a certain indiscretion if you move too close into a face. 
Close-ups give a feeling of intrusion; they are almost a personal 
violation of the actor, and they also destroy the privacy of the 
viewer's solitude. I can get very close to my characters without 
using extreme close-ups, probably much closer than some direc- 
tors who are constantly using them. 

Are you careful to take note of the audience reactions to your 
films? Do you make a point of reading the reviews of your films? 

When one of my films is released, generally I do not read many of 
the reviews. I have never been interested in circling around my 
own navel. Maybe some of the most important ones, as sometimes 
they influence the box-office results, but it has never been of much 
significance for me. The audience reactions have always been 
much more important than those of the critics, even if I have never 
been absolutely certain who my audience is. I have never purposely 
set out to make cloudy and complicated films, or stupid and banal 
films for tree-frogs. 


The opinion of the pubhc is sacred. The director is a cook who 
merely offers different dishes to them and has no right to insist 
they react in a particular way. A film is just a projection of light 
completed only when it crosses the gaze of the audience, and it was 
this navel-gazing that was one of the great weaknesses of New 
German Cinema. When Kleist, afraid of being misunderstood by 
his contemporaries, sent Goethe the manuscript of his play Penthe- 
silea, he wrote in a letter, 'Read this, I beg you on the knees of my 
heart.' This is how I feel when I present audiences with a new film. 
Some critics, like the American John Simon, have hated pretty 
much all my films. But that is OK and I never minded that he 
dunked me underwater as deep as he could. He is much better than 
the uninformed idiots who ruminate on some fancy or trendy 
things that are fioating around. Simon is in a league of his own and 
I actually admire him for his hostility as he actually has something 
to say. Better to read an interesting and penetrative review by the 
man criticizing a film for what it is, rather than a gossipy piece 
about what the film apparently has failed to be. I also like that his 
vitriol is often all-pervading and dismissive of a film from begin- 
ning to end. The man is not apathetic. 

One criticism that Simon had about The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser 
was one that seemed to be taken up by other critics - perhaps a 
case of Simon himself starting a trend - that the film was histor- 
ically inaccurate, the most obvious example of which was getting 
Bruno S., a forty-year-old man, to play a sixteen-year-old boy. 

But Bruno looks like a sixteen-year-old. Goddammit! And he was 
so unbelievably good on screen. He has such depth and power, 
and he moves me so deeply like no other actor in the world. He 
gave himself completely to the role and was so good doing 
exactly what the role required, being able to detach himself from 
every bit of knowledge he had about the world, even how to 
scratch himself. Bruno is the most co-operative and intuitive 
actor I have ever worked with. Age itself does not matter in this 
film at all. It means much more that Bruno radiates such a radi- 
cal human dignity. 

Who truly cares about the man's age? This is the difference 
between history and storytelling. I am a filmmaker, not an account- 


ant of history, and whether the actor was forty-one or seventy-one 
and plays an adolescent is in no way important. The film actually 
never tells you how old Kaspar is, so criticism like this comes from 
the obstructive presuppositions people so often bring to films, 
books or paintings that have as their subjects real historical fig- 
ures. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is not a historical drama 
about eighteenth-century Germany, nor does it purport to be the 
ioo per cent factually correct telling of the story of Kaspar, in the 
same way that Lessons of Darkness is not a political documentary 
about the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. They are both just films that 
tell a particular story. AnjTvay, historically nobody could tell 
exactly how old the real Kaspar was, though there are pretty plau- 
sible guesses that he must have been about sixteen or seventeen 
years old when he was pushed out into the open as a foundling 
without even being able to walk properly. 

Historical facts aside, what is the film about? 

Kaspar's story is about what civilization does to us all, how it 
deforms and destroys us by bringing us into societal line; in 
Kaspar's case this stultifying and staid bourgeois existence. 
Kaspar was a young man who showed up in Nuremberg in 1828. ^ 
When the people of the town attempted to communicate with him 
it transpired he had spent his whole life locked away in a dark 
dungeon tied to the ground with his belt. He had never had any 
contact with human beings because food was just pushed into his 
cell every night when he was sleeping. He never even knew of the 
existence of other human beings and even believed the belt which 
forced him to remain seated was a natural part of his anatomy. A 
couple of years after being taken in by the town, word got out that 
Kaspar was writing his autobiography. Soon after came the first 
attempt on his life, followed by his murder. It had been about two 
and a half years since he was found in the town square, and to this 
day no one is sure who his killer was. 

Kaspar was brutally propelled into the world as a young man 
who had not experienced society in any way whatsoever. It is the 
only known case in human history where an individual was 'born' 
as an adult. He arrived in society having completely missed his 
childhood and was forced to compress these years into only two 


and a half years. After this time Kaspar actually spoke quite well. 
He could write and even played the piano. 

For me this is the most interesting element to his story and the 
reason why The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is not a historical film. 
It is on a completely separate level to classic historical drama, and 
the primary issue it deals with is timeless: the human condition. 
Who the boy really was is neither important nor interesting, and 
is something that we will probably never know for certain. My 
film does not deal only with the problems the townsfolk experi- 
ence because Kaspar is living amongst them, but also with Kaspar's 
problems with the society in which he finds himself. There is a 
scene in the film when a young child holds a mirror up to Kaspar's 
face, the first time he has ever seen his reflection, something which 
confuses and shocks him. This is actually just what Kaspar is doing 
to everyone around him: forcing them to confront their day-to-day 
existence with new eyes. 

Is that what the scene with the professor of logic is about? 

Exactly. Kaspar is certainly the most intact person in this unnamed 
town, full of such basic and uncontaminated human dignity. He 
has the kind of intelligence you sometimes find in illiterates. In 
terms of pure logic, the only solution to the professor's problem is 
the one that he himself explains to Kaspar. But, of course, the 
answer that Kaspar gives is also correct. It is clear that Kaspar is 
strictly forbidden to imagine and that his creativity is being suffo- 
cated and suppressed. We sense that everything spontaneous in 
Kaspar is being systematically deadened by philistine society, 
though people like the professor think he is behaving decently with 
his attempts to 'educate' Kaspar. In the autopsy scene the towns- 
people are like vultures circling overhead as they feverishly 
attempt to discover some physical aberration in Kaspar and are 
overjoyed to finally find that apparently he has a malformed brain. 
These people are blind to that fact that the aberration is in their 
own bourgeois society, and finding this physical difference 
between themselves and Kaspar makes them feel better about how 
they had treated him when he was alive. 

The scene with the professor was difficult to shoot because Bruno 
had real difficulties in remembering his lines and articulating 


himself. When we reached the point in the scene when the profes- 
sor tells him that his answer to the question is wrong, Bruno 
thought he had actually made another mistake with his lines and 
became quite angry with himself for the error he thought he had 
made. So desperate was he that he shifted his whole body round in 
embarrassment, so contributing to this scene which is very dear to 

Are any of the lines that Kaspar speaks taken from the autobio- 
graphical fragment he wrote? 

A few are, like the text of the letter found in Kaspar's hand that is 
read by the cavalry captain, and BCaspar's own very beautiful line, 
'Ja, mir kommt es vor, das mein Erscheinen aufdieser Welt ein bar- 
ter Sturz gewesen is? ['Well, it seems to me that my coming into 
this world was a terribly hard fall']. But as my recent explorations 
in my 'documentaries' show, there is a much more profound level 
of truth than that of everyday reality, for example in the dreams 
that Kaspar talks of, and it is my job to seek them out. As I said, 
when it comes to storytelling, I am interested in the verifiable his- 
torical facts up to a point. But I much prefer to evoke history 
through atmosphere and the attitude of the characters rather than 
through anecdotes that may or may not be based on historical fact. 
Only the most basic elements of Kaspar's life as we know them are 
contained within the film and the rest is invented or simplified. 
Most of the details are my own: for example, as far as we know he 
was never shown in a circus, he never talked to a professor of 
logic, and never spoke about the Sahara. 

How much historical research did you do? 

The Kaspar Hauser archives are in Ansbach, the town where he 
was killed, but I never went there. There are about a thousand 
books and more than ten thousand articles and research papers 
that have been written about Kaspar, but I asked myself whether I 
really needed to get involved with such extraneous scholarship. 
Ninety per cent of the literature is about the criminal case, but as I 
said, what is really interesting about Kaspar is everything beyond 
this. The vast majority of this material focused on the crime itself 
or investigating Kaspar's origins, speculating on whether he was 


Napoleon's son, or trying to prove that he was an impostor. A 
recent film versions of the story suggested that Kaspar was a prince 
from the Royal House of Baden, a theory scotched when a German 
magazine did a DNA test on the blood from the shirt that Kaspar 
was wearing when he was killed and compared it to blood taken 
from a living member of the House of Baden. The only volume I 
read carefully was of original documents and essays that included 
the poetry and autobiographical fragment that the real Kaspar had 
written, plus the first part of Anselm von Feuerbach's book. I also 
read the documents concerning Kaspar's autopsy. At the time of 
the film, I was frequently asked if I had used Jakob Wassermann's 
novel4 as the basis of the film, though I have never read it. I had 
read Peter Handke's play Kaspar,^ but it is totally remote from my 
own Kaspar Hauser because this very beautiful and important text 
is all about the origins and distortions of language. 

Where was the film shot? 

Almost the entire film was shot in Dinkelsbiihl, a beautiful small 
town fifty kilometres from Ansbach in the Franconie region. It is 
still completely surrounded by mediaeval city walls and is covered 
in cobbled streets; the only thing we had to do was remove some 
television antennas. But I particularly did not want to name the town 
at the start because to tell everyone that this is Nuremberg means to 
present a precise place and, in a way, make that specific town in 
some way responsible for what happens in the film. By not naming 
the town it becomes any town: Paris, Munich, New York. The story 
is one that is nameless, timeless and could occur anywhere. 

You've said that, Uke Fata Morgana, the film has elemems of 
science fiction to it. What did you mean by this? 

If you strip the story out of Kaspar Hauser and leave just the 
dream sequences, you would be left with something that feels a lot 
like Fata Morgana, just like if you stripped away the story of Signs 
of Life and left just the shot of the windmills you would have 
something that feels like Fata Morgana. I always felt that Kaspar 
Hauser is almost Fata Morgana with a narrative story to it. 
Kaspar had no concept of the world, nor of speech or even of 
what the sky or a tree looked like. In the film he does not even 


know what danger is. There is a scene where he sits quite calmly as 
a swordsman lunges at him, and where he burns himself on a flame 
because he has never seen fire before. When he was first found by 
the townspeople he spoke only a few words and one or two phrases 
whose meaning he clearly did not even know, for example, 'I would 
like to be a rider the way my father was.' ['Ich mochte ein solcher 
Reiter iverden luie mein Mater einer war. '] He spoke the sentence like 
a parrot. There are several different stories about Kaspar and 
what the boy was capable of at first, but what really interested 
me was the story of someone who had not been influenced or 
contaminated in any way by society and outside forces, someone 
with no notion of anything whatsoever. It is fascinating to read 
some of Kaspar's own writings because actually he was frightened 
by the singing of birds; he just could not co-ordinate what he was 

Kaspar was, in the most purest sense, a being without culture, 
language and civilization, an almost primeval human being. As 
such he suffered greatly from his contact with people and society. 
Not an idiot, rather a saint like Joan of Arc, something that I feel 
really comes out in Bruno's performance. In fact, you can almost 
see his aureole when you watch the film. So for me the story of this 
boy is almost a science-fiction tale that takes in the age-old idea of 
aliens who arrive on our planet, just like those in the original script 
of Fata Morgana. They have no human social conditioning what- 
soever and walk around confused and amazed. The real question 
is perhaps anthropological: what happens to a man who has 
crashed on to our planet with no education and no culture? Whar 
does he feel? What does he see? What must a tree or a horse look 
like to such an arrival? And how will he be treated? 

It reminds me of the Oliver Sacks story 'To See or Not To See''' 
about a man blind from birth who finally regains his sight. Yet like 
Kaspar he has absolutely no concept of the world, and when he is 
staring into the eyes of his surgeon it just looks like a mass of light 
and shapes to him. 

Exactly, these are the kinds of feelings and questions I want to 
flow over the audience. And just as we are forced to ask our- 
selves questions about perception and memory when we see Fini 


Straubinger in Land of Silence and Darkness, trapped as she is 
with the images and sounds of years gone by, when we hear about 
the unique story of Kaspar Hauser we think of someone not 
deformed or distorted in any way by human civihzation. Some of 
the shots in Kaspar Hauser seem to be held for an unusually long 
time, like the one near the beginning of the rye field blowing in the 
wind. I felt it was important to hold this image because in some 
small way I wanted the audience to empathize with Kaspar by 
looking anew at the things on this planet, seeing them almost with 
Kaspar's youthful eyes. For some of these kinds of shots I mounted 
a telephoto lens on a fish-eye lens which gave the image a very 
strange quality. 

The dream sequences and the music used in the film also play a 
part here. Technically the images remain unchanged when music is 
placed behind them, but there are certain pieces of music which, 
when heard alongside particular images, reveal the inner qualities 
of the scene to the spectator. The perspective changes but not the 
image itself. A scene might not be logical in a narrative way, but 
sometimes when music is added it starts to acquire an internal 
logic. I wanted to use music to show Kaspar's awakening from his 
slumber, his being shaken awake from his almost catatonic state. 

How did you go about casting Bruno S. in the film? And is casting, 
like location scouting, something that you do yourself? 

Casting is such an essential part of my work. When you have a 
really good screenplay and a very good cast you barely need a 
director. Whoever said that casting was 90 per cent of the direc- 
tor's job was correct. 

Sometimes, however, there are real difficulties in persuading 
others that your choice is the right one, and Bruno S. is the best 
example of this. I first saw Bruno in a film about the street per- 
formers of Berlin called Bruno the BlackJ I was immediately fasci- 
nated by Bruno and asked the director to put me in touch with 
him. We both went to Bruno's apartment the next week, and when 
he opened the door and we explained who I was, Bruno would not 
even look at me in the eyes, just vaguely extending his hand 
towards me. He did not like talking to people because he was so 
full of mistrust and suspicion. From childhood he had been locked 


The Enigma ofKaspar Hauser 


away for so many years and certainly had reason enough to be 
suspicious. But within a relatively short period of time Bruno and 
I had established a strong rapport, something that we maintained 
throughout the shooting, though during that initial meeting jtt 
took about half an hour before he would even make eye contact 
with me. 

However, everyone doubted whether he would be able to play 
the lead character in a feature film. For the first and only time in 
my life I did some screen tests. I had Bruno in costume with an act- 
ing partner and a full crew behind me. I felt absolutely miserable 
as I was doing it. I knew it was not going to be that good and I was 
right. The results were like a stillborn child, absolutely dead. What 
gave me the confidence and the assurance Bruno was the right one 
for the part was that while I watched this embarrassing footage I 
was immediately struck by the realization of just exactly what I 
had done wrong. I knew it was not Bruno who was bad, it was me. 
Of course, when I screened the test to friends and the television 
network that was going to finance part of the film I just sank in my 
chair. After the screening, the network executive from ZDF stood 
up and asked, 'Who else is against Bruno?' The hands of everyone 
shot up into the air. But then I sensed that there was a hand not 
raised just next to me. I turned and it was Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein, 
my cameraman. I asked him, 'Jorg, is your hand down?' And he 
just grinned at me and nodded. A great moment. 

I have never liked this kind of numerical democracy in voting, 
and said, 'Bruno is going to be the one.' It was like in mediaeval 
times when, if a group of monks were against some innovation or 
a reform of monastic life, just out of indifference and cowardliness 
or slovenliness and boredom, and only a couple of them had the 
feverish ecstatic knowledge that these changes had to be made to 
advance the cause of faith, then out of the enormity of their wish 
and their insight these two would simply declare themselves the 
melior pars - the 'better part' - and would win the ballot. It makes 
sense to me: the intensity of your knowledge and insight and your 
feverish wishes should decide the battle, not strength in numbers. 
To everyone in the room I said, 'This is the ballot and we have 
won,' and asked the network executive of ZDF who was putting 
up much of the budget to declare himself either with me or against 
me. He looked a long while into my face and said, 'I am still on 


board.' His name is Willi Segler, and I love him for his loyalty. We 
went into production almost immediately. 

Why did you choose to keep Bruno's identity secret? 

We kept Bruno anonymous because he asked us to and I think he 
was right to do so. When he was three years old his mother, a 
prostitute, beat him so hard that he lost speech, and she used that 
as a pretext to put him away in an asylum for retarded children. 
He escaped and was caught and ended up spending the next 
twenty-three years of his life in homes, institutions, asylums and 
prisons. By the time I met him, Bruno's treatment at the hands of 
the authorities had totally destroyed even the most basic human 
functions within him, including the desire to take care of himself. 
At the start of the film, when Kaspar is in the cellar attached to 
the floor by his belt, you hear Bruno's natural breathing on the 
soundtrack. I left this in because I felt it worked well for the char- 
acter. Working with such an inexperienced actor meant that we 
had to record all the dialogue live on set as it would have been 
impossible to re-dub the film. The heavy, artificial nature of studio 
work would not have been something Bruno could have worked 
under. This meant a lot of extra work for us because we had to 
capture all the sounds of 1828 there and then. There could not be 
the slightest noise from the twentieth century so we had to ban all 
cars from the environs. 

Bruno was very aware that the film was just as much about how 
society had destroyed him as it was about how society had killed 
Kaspar Hauser. Maybe for this reason he wanted to remain anony- 
mous, and to this day I call him the 'Unknown Soldier of Cinema'. 
The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is his monument. For a while I even 
thought about calling the film The Story of Bruno Hauser. The role 
really touched him, really got under his skin. I quickly realized he 
should not be taken out of his environment for a long time nor 
should he be exposed to the press or regaled as a film star. He did 
get very excited when he heard about the Cannes Film Festival and 
said, 'Der Bruno [The Bruno] wants to transmit his accordion play 
to these people out there.' I was wary about taking him to the meat 
market out there, but he really wanted to go and had a good time. 
You know how intrusive and voracious the press is at Cannes, but 


he was so grounded when confronted by them, pulhng out his 
bugle and giving them a tune. One time he got up in front of an 
audience with his accordion and said, 'Now I will play all the 
nuances of the colour red.' He drew so much attention, yet 
remained totally untouched by it and was not at all frightened by 
the masses of photographers. At the press conference for the film 
he impressed everyone with his complete sincerity and innocence. 
He said he had come to see the sea for the first time and marvelled 
at how clean it was. Someone told him that, in fact, it wasn't. 
'When the world is emptied of human beings,' he said, 'it will 
become so again.' 

How did Bruno acclimatize himself to being on a film set? It must 
have been a very strange experience for him. 

Without the mutual trust quickly established between the two of 
us I would not have stood a chance. I would hold his wrist a lot; 
with Bruno there was always physical contact. Not his hand, just 
his wrist, as if I had my fingers on his pulse. He kind of liked that. 
Sometimes he was very unruly and would rant about the injustices 
of the world. All I could do when this happened was to stop every- 
one and allow him to say whatever he wanted to say. I got quite 
angry with a sound man who, after an hour of this ranting, opened 
a magazine and started to read. I said to him, 'You are being paid 
now to listen to Bruno. All of us will listen to him.' After a few 
minutes of this Bruno would see that everyone was looking at him, 
and would say, 'Der Bruno has talked too much. Let's do some 
good work now.' I constantly said to him, 'Bruno, when you need 
to talk and speak about yourself, do it. It is not an interruption for 
us. It is very much a part of what we are doing here. Not every- 
thing needs to be recorded on film.' 

In the past, when he would break out from a correctional insti- 
tution, he would be in hiding and because of this he was always on 
high alert, always ready to be recaptured by the police. He liked 
the character of Kaspar so much that he refused to take his cos- 
tume off and most of the time he even slept in it. One day he did 
not show up for breakfast and it was obvious he had overslept so 
I knocked on his door. There was no answer, so I pushed the door 
open and immediately bumped into an obstacle. It was Bruno, 


who had slept not in the bed but right next to the door, something 
I later found out that he had done from the first day of shooting. 
He just had a pillow and a blanket on the floor so that he could 
escape immediately if he needed to. And in a second, less than a 
second, he stood bolt upright in front of me, wide awake, and he 
said, 'Yes, Werner, what is it?' It really broke my heart when I saw 
this, and I said, 'Bruno, you have overslept. Did you really sleep 
here on the floor?' He always referred to himself in the third per- 
son. 'Yes,' he said, 'Der Bruno is always sleeping next to the 
escape.' That is where he felt safe. 

The shooting of film was tiring for him and whenever he was too 
exhausted he would just say, 'Der Bruno is going to take that one' 
and take a nap for a couple of minutes between takes. I think it 
was his way of removing himself for very short periods of time, 
something that was necessary every now and then. At the end of 
each shot I would always record the room's ambient sound on the 
set. Every room and every set-up has its own level of silence and its 
own atmosphere, and for continuity in editing we needed to take a 
register after every take. But with Bruno around it was impossible 
to do so because five seconds after calling 'Cut', Bruno would be 
asleep, snoring loudly. This would happen ten times a day. Occa- 
sionally, he would want to direct a scene himself. For example, I 
explained the scene where he is mortally stabbed to him about a 
week before we needed to shoot it, and he spent that whole time 
thinking very seriously about it and making lots of notes to him- 
self. A few days later he came up to me and said, 'Werner, finally I 
know what to transmit [durchgeben] out in this scene.' He would 
never say 'act' or 'do', always 'transmit'. So he stood there and 
screamed horrifyingly, like a bad theatre actor, then fell on to the 
ground thrashing about wildly. He told me, T will send out the cry 
of death.' I could see that he clearly wanted to play the scene that 
way, so twenty minutes before shooting I rewrote the scene. It 
would have been too difficult to persuade him otherwise. 
Another issue to deal with was the fact that Bruno did not speak 
pure German, or even grammatically correct German, but rather a 
dialect from the Berlin suburbs. It was hard work to get him to speak 
not just in Hochdeutsch - proper German, something like the 
equivalent of the Queen's English - but also as if he were discover- 
ing language for the first time; his articulation elevated the acting 


to a very stylized level and in the end we were able to take advan- 
tage of this language problem. I think it greatly adds to the power 
of Bruno's performance because his speaking voice and his articu- 
lation produced a very beautiful effect, and it really seems like he 
is struggling with a wholly new language. 

Did Bruno get more confident as the shoot went on? 

Absolutely. In general, filming was truly wonderful because Bruno 
became very used to the process and he worked very hard the 
whole time. For the scene near the start when Kaspar learns to 
walk, Bruno wanted to really numb his legs and had the idea of 
putting a stick in the hollow of his knees and sitting like that for 
two hours. After this he could not stand up at all and the scene 
really is extraordinary. I should say, however, that he had moments 
of real distrust of all of us, especially me. He was always going into 
bars and throwing his money around, getting drunk, so I suggested 
we go to the bank and open an account for him. But he was con- 
vinced there was a conspiracy going on to steal his money. No one, 
not even the bank manager, could persuade him that it was 
absolutely impossible for me deceitfully to take the money from 
his account and put it into my own unless I had his personal 
authorization in writing. He actually accused me of hiring a stooge 
to play the manager so I could steal his money. But the times when 
he did trust what we were doing were wonderful. He would talk 
incessantly about death and started to write a will. He said to me, 
'Where shall I put it? My brother will kill me, or I will kill him if I 
see him. I can't trust my family. My mother the whore is dead, and 
my sister the whore is dead.' I told him to put it in a safe in the 
bank or to give it to a lawyer. But he said, 'No, I do not trust them.' 
Two days later he gave me the will and asked me to take care of it. 
I still have the sealed envelope. 

Did Bruno really know exactly what was going on and that he was 
in a film? 

Of course he did. He is a very intelligent man, very streetwise, and 
not at all defenceless. I made it very clear to him before we started 
working that on the most primitive level this was an exchange of 
services: you will act in the film and be paid for it. But there is 


more to it, I explained, because you will fill this character with 
more convincing life than anyone else in the world. 'There is a big 
task on your shoulders,' I said, a challenge that thankfully he 
accepted without hesitation. 

The conversations I had with Bruno were complex but invigor- 
ating and beautiful. We had a very old-fashioned autopsy table 
made of solid marble for the death scene in the film, and Bruno 
was so fascinated about death and this table that after the film 
was finished he desperately wanted to have it. In a strange tone of 
voice he would say, 'The name of this table is justice.' 'What do 
you mean, Bruno?' I asked him. He replied, 'Yes, this is justice 
because I had a vision of my own death. One day you will put me 
on the table and I will die, and you will all die, the rich and the 
poor. This is justice. And all those who have done me wrong will 
confront justice here.' He wanted to take the table, but I 
explained that it did not belong to us, that we had rented it as a 
prop from an antique shop. I think I even suggested to him that it 
was not actually the kind of thing that he wanted to own. 'No, 
Der Bruno must have it!' he would say. 'When I saw myself lying 
on this table I knew that cause of death was Heimweh [home- 
sickness].' I really did not take his requests too seriously until one 
day when he gave me some of the very naive paintings he had 
made of the table as a present. In the pictures he is lying on the 
table with a speech bubble coming from his mouth saying: 'Cause 
of death: Heimweh.'' Some months later I asked him if he wanted 
any photographs of the film or taken on the set. 'The only one I 
want', he said to me, 'is a photo of the scene of the autopsy. 
Because it is justice. The table is justice.' After that I felt he should 
have the table after all and so I bought it from the shop and gave 
it to him. 

Do you think that the film helped Bruno emotionally? 

Sometimes during the shooting of the film Bruno would be com- 
pletely desperate about his life and what had happened to him, 
and every single day I tried to make it clear to him that working 
together for five weeks on a film could never repair the damage 
that so many years of imprisonment had done to him, some- 
thing I feel certain that he came to understand quite clearly. His 


isolation was just too profound for us to make major inroads in 
only a few weeks. But I think, in the long term, working on the 
film helped Bruno ever so slightly come to terms with what had 
happened to him. He had never before had an opportunity to 
reflect in such a unique way on his own life. There were many 
things that he still did not understand though; for example, why, 
when he walked down the street, dirty and neglected, the girls had 
no time for him. He would grab one of them and cry, 'Why don't 
you kiss me!' I was also very careful to ensure that he would not 
lose his job as a forklift driver in a steel factory. He had been 
treated like a freak there. Later though, after the film had been 
released, I called the factory and asked to speak to Bruno and the 
secretary would say, 'Sorry, our Bruno is not on the factory floor 
at the moment.' So after the film he was given a totally different 
status in the factory; now he was *our Bruno'. They were gen- 
uinely proud of him and after the film came out people started to 
take him seriously and he was given real responsibilities. We shot 
the film during his vacation, and because he only got something 
like three weeks per year, we asked for extra unpaid holiday time 
for him. 

He earned a good sum of money for his work, so on the primi- 
tive level of economics Bruno benefited from the experience. I 
know this for a fact. He earned a good wage which we helped him 
put to good use, and the apartment where he lives in Strozek is 
actually the apartment he rented after making Kaspar Hauser. He 
also bought himself a piano and collected all sorts of things from 
the garbage that filled his new home. Of course, the film did not 
solve the problems his catastrophic life had showered on him, but 
it helped him within his own social environment. People who lived 
in those Berlin streets where he lived would drag him into the 
pastry shop and buy a cake for him, and the barber would give him 
a free haircut. They were all very proud of him, something which 
did him some good. 

What about the accusation that your working relationship with 
Bruno was exploitative? 

Just like with Fini and Land of Silence and Darkness, I was crit- 
icized for abusing an innocent and defenceless man. What can I 


say about this other than I know I did the right thing. For many 
people my hiring a man hke Bruno was simply too far out of the 

How was the film received? 

As usual, not very well in Germany. Some critics compared it to 
Truffaut's film L'Enfant Sauvage* which is about a doctor caring 
for the Wild Boy of Avejron, a young child found in a forest 
who could not speak or even walk properly. I feel that any com- 
parisons with the Truffaut film are incorrect. There is so often a 
tendency to compare and contrast one film with another just 
because the stories they tell appear to be similar, but in fact are 
completely different. This is mainly because many of the critics 
have such intellectual backgrounds and they are very much 
accustomed to making such comparisons, categorizations and 
evaluations. But it is not helpful at all. There is certainly some- 
thing to be said about the way the western European critics 
approach things. Their writings are packed full of comparisons 
and references to an3/thing and ever}fthing they can think of, 
including literature and other films, of course. When Aguirre 
opened in France, for example, it was compared to Borges, John 
Ford, Shakespeare and Rimbaud. I was very suspicious about 
such heavy name-dropping. 

In Truffaut's film - which I saw after I made Kaspar Hauser - 
there is a child who has the nature of a wolf and is taught how to 
act as a member of so-called civilized society. Yet Kaspar has no 
nature whatsoever, not that of bourgeois society, nor of wolves. 
Simply, he is human. On the surface the subjects of the two films 
appear similar, but on closer inspection it becomes clear that there 
are real tangible differences between them. It is misleading to 
even talk about this. Truffauig is also concerned with eighteenth- 
century pedagogy, which is not the case with my film. I would pre- 
fer that The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser be compared to Dreyer'" 
than to Truffaut. The film is really The Passion of Kaspar Hauser. 
Many people have told me that the scene when the three villagers 
come into Kaspar's cell to hypnotize the chicken reminds them 
of the scene in Dreyer's La Passion of Jeanne d'Arc when the 
soldiers taunt Jeanne in her cell. Over time there have been several 


documented cases similar to the one in Truffaut's film, while 
Kaspar's case remains totally unique. 

At the time of post-production, I had the feeling that Kaspar 
Hauser was something like a self-assessment after so many years of 
work. It was like drawing a line, figuring out what I had done up 
to that point and seeing where I should go from there. Many of the 
characters from earlier films appear in the film: Hombrecito from 
Aguirre, Walter Steiner has a small part, and the composer Florian 
Fricke, who played the piano player in Signs of Life. 

For your next film, Heart of Glass, you hypnotized the actors. How 
could you have been sure that your 'experiment' wasn't going to 
sabotage the whole production: 

Well, cinema per se has a secret hjqjnotic quality to it. Often when 
I am on the film set I have to ask the continuity girl what scenes we 
have already done and what is left to do. I am almost unconscious 
and get a shock when I am told it is the third week of filming 
already. 'How is this possible?' I ask myself. 'Where has all rhe time 
gone? What have I actually achieved here?' I feel as if I had been at 
a drunken party and somehow got home without being aware of it. 
As if the police stood at my bedside the next morning accusing me 
of having killed someone during the night. 

There were two films that were a strong influence on me dur- 
ing the lead-up to Heart of Glass. One was The Tragic Diary of 
Zero the Fool," which was made with a theatre group from a 
lunatic asylum in Canada. The other was Jean Rouch's Les 
Maitres Fou,'' shot in Ghana and featuring the annual cere- 
monies of the Hauka tribe who, when heavily under drugs, enact 
the arrival of the English colonial governor and his people. The 
reasons for the experiments with hypnosis are quite simple. The 
script was loosely adapted from a chapter of Herbert Achtern- 
busch's novel The Hour of Death which was, in turn, based on 
an old Bavarian folk legend about a peasant prophet in Lower 
Bavaria who, like Nostradamus, made predictions about the 
cataclysmic end of the world. In the film Hias - a shepherd with 
prophetic gifts - has apocaljqDtic visions and foresees an entire 
town becoming halfway insane and the destruction by fire of its 
glassworks. At the end of the film the factory-owner burns his 


own factory down, as foreseen, and the prophet is then blamed 
for the fire. 

At the time I knew very httle about hjqjnosis and it never 
crossed my mind to use it in a film until I started to think about the 
story I had before me, one about collective madness, one that calls 
for these characters to be aware of the catastrophe that is 
approaching, yet one they continue to walk straight into. I won- 
dered how I could stylize everyone who, almost like sleepwalkers 
with open eyes, as if in a trance, were walking into this foreseeable 
disaster. I wanted actors with fluid, almost floating movements, 
which meant the film would seem to depart from known behav- 
iour and gestures and would have an atmosphere of hallucination, 
prophecy and collective delirium that intensifies towards the end. 
Under hypnosis the identities of the actors would remain intact, 
but they would now be stylized. Maybe the title Heart of Glass 
makes more sense in this light. It seems to mean for me an 
extremely sensitive and fragile inner state, with a kind of trans- 
parent glacial quality to it. 

Back then, like today, did some people suspect the ivhole thing was 
just a kind of circus gimmick? 

Oh sure, but there really was a very clear purpose to it. Everyone 
but the lead character - the only clairvoyanr one amongst them 
- was hjqanotized before pla3dng their scenes. I stress that the 
hypnosis was for reasons of stylization and not manipulation. I 
certainly did not want a bunch of performing puppets for the film. 
For years people have accused me of wanting to have more control 
over actors in my films. In the context of what we were doing in 
Heart of Glass, I assure you that as a director I would have been 
much better off having actors who were not in trance. And it is a 
common mistake to assume there is complete control over people 
under hjqjnosis. That is not so, for whatever is the hard core of 
your character remains untouchable under h)rpnosis. For example, 
if 1 ask a hypnotized person to take a knife and kill his mother, he 
would refuse. 

What I did with Heart of Glass was, for me, part of a very 
natural progression. My attempts to render inner states that are 
transparent from a certain viewpoint were realized in a kind of 


nightmarish vision in Even Dwarfs Started Small, in ecstatic states 
in The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Sterner, and even in the state 
of non-participation of social activities with the children in Land 
of Silence and Darkness and Bruno in The Enigma of Kaspar 
Hauser. In all these films none of the people are deformed, not 
even the dwarfs. 

The film has a profound poetic quality to it, even when there is no 

I wanted to provoke poetic language out of people who had never 
before been in touch with poetry. During pre-production I put an 
ad in the newspaper asking for people who wanted to take part in 
a series of experiments involving hj^nosis. There were sessions 
once a week for about six months, and we ended up selecting those 
people according to the types that were needed for the story, and 
also, crucially, based on their receptivity to hypnosis. We were also 
careful to choose people who were emotionally stable and who 
were genuinely interested in what we were doing. Out of about 
500 people, we chose thirty-five. Once we had the actors, the aim 
of rehearsals was also to work out a catalogue of suggestions 
which would result in the kind of stylized somnambulistic absent- 
mindedness that you see in the film. 

As director I would not say, 'You are a great poet' or 'You are 
now the most gifted singer in the world', but rather 'You move as 
if in slow motion because the whole room is filled with water. You 
have an oxygen tank, and though under water usually you can 
move only with great difficulty, you feel very light right now. You 
are just drifting, almost flying.' Or something like, 'You see your 
partner, but you look through him as you look through a window,' 
and 'You are an inventor of great genius, and you are working on 
an insane, beautiful invention. When I come to you and put my 
hand on your shoulder, you will tell me what you are inventing.' 
What counted was the way things were suggested to the actors, 
and soon they were able to feel non-existent heat so intensely that 
they would break out in a sweat. They were able to hold conver- 
sations with imaginary people, and two hypnotized actors could 
even talk to a third imaginary person. The timing of movements 
and speech were often very peculiar, and once the actors had been 


brought out of their states, many had only a vague recollection of 
what they had been doing. 

Did you do all the hypnosis yourself? 

Initially I had a hypnotist during rehearsals. I knew that he had to 
be prepared to play the role of assistant director during the shoot, 
but eventually I had to take over because I did not like his 
approach. He was a New Age creep who made claims that hyp- 
nosis was a cosmic aura only he, with his powers, could transmit 
on to specially gifted mediums. He was just too much into the 
supernatural aspects, many of which ended up in the script of 
Invincible when Hanussen is on stage. After two sessions I found 
myself all alone having to hypnotize the cast myself. During the 
shooting this meant having to speak to the cast and crew in two 
different pitches of voice. I had to whisper instructions to the 
cameraman because if I had asked him out loud to move a foot to 
the left, the entire cast would have done the same. The only char- 
acter in the film who was not put into trance is Hias, the prophet. 
Also workers in the glass factory were not under hjqjnosis because 
it would simply have been too dangerous, as liquid glass has a 
temperature of 1,100 °C. 

How different is it directing actors who are hypnotized from deal- 
ing with performers not in trance? 

Normally I would tell them what to do and how to react after I 
had put them into trance, but I would give them a lot of space 
because so much of what happened was so unpredictable. Imagi- 
nation functions very well under hj^pnosis. I would not just ask 
someone to write a poem. I told them: 'You are the first one who 
has set foot on a foreign island for centuries. It is overgrown with 
jungle, full of strange birds. You come across a gigantic cliff, and 
on closer inspection this entire cliff is made of pure emerald where 
hundreds of years ago a Holy Monk had spent his entire life with 
a chisel and hammer engraving a poem into the wall. It took him 
his entire life to engrave only three lines of a poem. And you open 
your eyes and are the first one to see it. You read out what you see 
to me.' One actor in the film tended the stables of a Munich police 
station. He had no formal education and I asked him to open his 


eyes and read this inscription to me. He stood there and said he did 
not have his glasses, so I told him to move a little bit closer and 
everything would be in focus. He moved closer and in a very 
strange voice said, 'Why can we not drink the moon? Why is there 
no vessel to hold it?' And it went on, a very beautiful reading. The 
next guy - a former law student - stepped up. I told him the same 
story, he took a look and said, 'Dear Mother, I am doing fine, 
everj^hing is all right. I'm looking to the future now. Hugs and 
kisses, Your Son.' 

Did you think it was important for audiences to know that the 
actors were hypnotized? 

No, I never did, not least because hypnosis really is an ordinary 
phenomenon, just like sleep. It is surrounded by an aura of the 
mysterious primarily because science has not yet furnished us with 
sufficient explanations of it. H3rpnosis is similar to, let's say, 
acupuncture, though we do not yet know enough about the 
physiological processes of the brain in either phenomenon. It has 
nothing to do with metaphysics or any kind of evil powers, even if 
the country-fair hypnotist tries to convince his audience otherwise. 
The way hypnosis really works is with the hjqDnotist giving life to 
the act of self-hjqjnosis via mind and speech rituals. When I spoke 
to audiences who said they had no idea about the use of hjqanosis 
in Heart of Glass, many of them spoke of the film's 'dreamy 

Actually it is possible to hypnotize someone from a screen, and 
the original idea was for me to appear on screen in a prologue 
explaining to the audience that, if they wanted to, they themselves 
could experience the film under hypnosis. 'If you follow my voice 
now and look at the object I am holding and focus on it you could 
become hypnotized, but so deeply that you will have your eyes 
open and will see the film on a different level.' Of course, at the 
end of the film I would reappear and softly wake them up without 
any anxieties. I would have advised everyone in the audience who 
did not want to participate to avert their eyes. 'Do not listen, do 
not follow my advice.' I did not follow through with this plan as it 
would have been wholly irresponsible to do so. 


The film is also one of your most beautiful to look at. It is simply 
filmed amidst what are very archetypical Herzog locations. 

There are no gimmicks in the film on any level, and for kids today 
used to fast-moving editing, a slow-moving drama like this might 
be difficult to take. Schmidt-Reitwein and I looked at the work of 
seventeenth-century French painter Georges de La Tour. '3 i 
wanted to capture something of the same atmosphere you find in 
his canvases. Some of the finest shots I have ever done are at the 
start of the film when you look down into a valley and a river of 
fog floats by. It took twelve consecutive days of the crew sitting on 
this mountain top to capture this image. I had people clicking 
frame by frame by hand until I got what I wanted, and the shot has 
a very strange style to it as if we are looking at a moving canvas. 
One of the things I like about Heart of Glass is that though it 
seems to be set in something like the late eighteenth century, you 
are never absolutely certain. It is a very loosely defined past, cer- 
tainly pre-industrial, and these indefinable landscapes do not help 
you place the story of the film in a solid historical past. Most of the 
film was shot in Bavaria, some in Switzerland and some in Alaska 
near Glacier Bay. But in the film I declare all landscapes Bavarian, 
for these other parts of the world share a real affinity to the Bavar- 
ian landscapes that I have a very deep connection to. Some filming 
was done very close to Sachrang where I grew up, and I was 
always surrounded by very familiar-looking terrain. Stories like 
Heart of Glass were always being told when I was growing up. 
There were mj^hological heroes that we had; there were idols we 
had, the incredibly strong lumberjacks who would brawl in bars. 
There was a mythical waterfall in a ravine behind the house, and 
on our way to school in the village we had to pass a forest we 
thought was haunted by witches. When I pass this spot today I still 
get the feeling that there is something different about the forest. 
The final sequence was filmed on Skellig Rock, a truly ecstatic 
landscape out there in Ireland. It is a rock almost like a pjramid 
that rises almost 300 metres out of the ocean where in the year 
1000 AD the marauding Norsemen threw the inhabiting monks off 
into the sea. It took hours and hours of sailing in small boats 
through the rain and the cold just to get there, and only during the 
summer is it possible to land there as it is otherwise too windswept. 


The breakers rise thirty or forty metres vertically up the sides of it. 
Up at the top there is mist, steam and a sloping plateau. You have 
to climb hundreds of steps, carved out of the stone by the monks. 
Hias has a vision of a man standing up there, one of those who have 
yet to learn that the Earth is round. He still believes that the Earth 
is a flat disc that ends in an abyss somewhere far out in the ocean. 
For years he stands staring out over the sea until several more men 
join him. One day they resolve to take the ultimate risk: they take a 
boat and start to row out to sea. In the last shot of the film you can 
see the ocean growing dark, deep heavy clouds and long drawn-out 
waves, and the four men rowing their boat out into the totally grey 
open sea. 

The last thing we see in the film are the words 'It may have seemed 
like a sign of hope that the birds followed them out into the vast- 
ness of the sea. ' Did you write that? 

I did. And somehow, maybe, I want to be that man who looks to 
the horizon and decides to set out to discover the shape of the 
Earth himself. 


1 Klaus Wyborny (b. 1945, Germany) is one of Germany's leading 
'alternative' filmmakers (he works almost exclusively on 8 mm) and 
film theorists. 

2 Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson's The Lost Prince (Free Press, 1996) is a 
good summary of the story of Kaspar Hauser and includes the com- 
plete translation of Anselm von Feuerbach's T832 book Kaspar 
Hauser: Beispiel eines Verbrechens am Seelenleben des Mencken 
(Kaspar Hauser: A Case of a Crime Against the Soul of a Human 
Being) along with the 1828 autobiographical fragment that Kaspar 
himself wrote. 

3 Kaspar Hauser (1996), written and directed by Peter Sebr. 'The man, 
the myth, the crime' reads the video box. 

4 Jakob Wassermann (1873-1934, Germany) was a leading novelist of 
the 1920s and 30s. His Caspar Hauser was published in 1908. 
Michael Hulse's translation was published in 1992 by Penguin. 

5 Peter Handke (b. 1942, Austria) is a leading German-language 
novelist and playwright whose work includes the play Kaspar 
(1968). His novel The Goalkeepers Fear of the Penalty (1971) was 
made into a fihn by German director Wim Wenders, with whom he 


has worked as a screenwriter (including Wings of Desire). 

6 'To See and Not See' from An Anthropologist on Mars (Picador, 
1995)- See Chapter 3, footnote 2. 

7 Bruno der Schwarze - Es blies ein Jager wohl in sein Horn [Bruno 
the Black - One Day a Hunter Blew His Horn] (1970), directed by 
Lutz Eisholz. 

8 Truffaut's The Wild Child was made in 1969. See Roger Shattuck's 
The Forbidden Experiment: The Story of the Wild Boy of Aveyron 
(Quartet, 1981). 

9 Francois Truffaut (1932-84, France) was one of the leading directors 
of the French New Wave. His many fQms include The Four Hundred 
Blows (1959), Jules and Jim (1961), Fahrenheit 457 (1966) and The 
Last Metro (1980). 

10 Carl Theodore Dreyer (1889-1968, Denmark) was the director of La 
Passion de Jeanne DArc (1928), Vampyr (1932), Day of Wrath 
(1943) and Gertrud (1964). See his book of writings Dreyer in 
Double Reflection (edited by Donald Skoller, Dutton, 1973). 

11 The Tragic Diary of Zero the Fool (1969), directed by Morley Mark- 
son, a Toronto-based filmmaker, who explains: 'Zero the Fool was an 
experimental improvisation. I felt the story would be more interest- 
ing approached as a kind of documentary, with real and unscripted 
interactions plus a probing camera style, I felt the story would be 
more interesting. The film progresses until it kind of dissolves into a 
truthful insanity. The actors were all unprofessional, though we 
didn't actually shoot in a lunatic asylum. I called it the Sunset 
Asylum in the film because I thought it would help people get into 
the right frame of mind when they watched the film. The house we 
filmed in was actually a gathering place for lots of artistic and 
creative people. Zero the Fool played at various film festivals hack 
then. I do remember entering it into the Toronto Film Festival where 
it failed to qualify for entry because, they said, it's simply "not a 
movie." I liked that a lot.' 

12 Jean Rouch (b. 1917, France) is generally considered the father of 
modern ethnographic filmmaking. His work includes Moi, un noir 
(1958) and Chronicle of a Summer (i960). See Mick Eaton's Anthro- 
pology- Reality - Cinema (BFI, 1978). 

13 See Georges de La Tour and his World (edited by Philip Conisbee, 
Yale University Press, 1996). 


5. Legitimacy 

We talked earlier about how German romanticism may or may not 

have influenced your work. Who are the writers, poets and film- 
makers - German or otherwise - that have been most influential 
on your own art? 

First of all, I am not an artist and never have been. Rather I am 
a craftsman and feel very close to the mediaeval artisans who 
produced their work anonymously and who, along with their 
apprentices, had a true feeling for the physical materials they were 
working with. 

Years ago I was in Paris right after a huge exhibition of the work 
of Caspar David Friedrich.' It seemed like every single French 
journalist I spoke to had seen the exhibition and insisted on seeing 
my films - especially Heart of Glass and Kaspar Hauser - within 
the context of this new knowledge he suddenly had. Then, after a 
similar exhibition of German expressionism a few years later, 
everyone told me how many elements of expressionism they 
could see in my work. One year it was inconceivable to them I 
had not planned to imbue my films from start to finish with ele- 
ments of German romanticism, the next year they were even more 
incredulous that I had no preconceived notion of expressionism 
within my work. When it comes to the French, it is either roman- 
ticism or expressionism I am tainted with, simply because those 
are the only two movements in German art anyone has ever heard 
of, so surely I must fit comfortably within one or the other. Please 
have a look at what I said to Les Blank about the jungle?^ Anyone 
who understands romanticism will know that those were not the 


words of a romanticist. And when it comes to the Americans, who 
have generally been very good to me and my films over the years 
but not having much knowledge of either romanticism or expres- 
sionism, for them the only question is, 'Is this film in line with 
Nazism or not?' 

When it comes to being influenced by the work of others, one 
experiences, maybe only five or six times during a lifetime, the 
incredible feeling that illuminates and enlightens your own exis- 
tence. It might happen while reading a text, listening to a piece of 
music, watching a film or looking at a painting. And sometimes - 
even if centuries are being bridged - you find a brother and 
instantly know that you are no longer alone. I experienced this 
with Kleist, with Bach's Musikalisches Opfer, with the scarcely 
known poet Quirin Kuhlman, with Freaks by Todd Browning and 
Dreyer's Jeanne d'Arc. If I had to give you the names of the 
painters who have influenced me, I would name Griinewald, and 
above all, Bosch and Brueghel. Leonardo da Vinci too. I am think- 
ing of the Madonna with a window in the background that looks 
out over a kind of vast ideal landscape. These are the kinds of 
landscapes I try to find in my films, the landscapes that exist only 
in our dreams. For me a true landscape is not just a representa- 
tion of a desert or a forest. It shows an inner state of mind, liter- 
ally inner landscapes, and it is the human soul that is visible 
through the landscapes presented in my films, be it the jungle in 
Aguirre, the desert in Fata Morgana, or the burning oil fields of 
Kuwait in Lessons of Darkness. This is my real connection to 
Caspar David Friedrich, a man who never wanted to paint land- 
scapes per se, but wanted to explore and show inner landscapes. 
There is a painter who I feel even closer to, a virtual unknown 
called Hercules Segers.3 He was a Dutch painter who made very 
small-sized prints. The man was an alcoholic and was considered 
insane by those around him. He was so poor he painted on any- 
thing he could find, including the tablecloth, and when he died 
many of his prints were used for wrapping sandwiches. Thankfully 
Rembrandt was the only one who took him seriously and it is 
known that he owned at least eight of Segers' prints. He also 
bought one of Segers' oil canvases which is now in the Uffizi ™ 
Florence and immediately improved the painting by adding some 
clouds and an ox-cart in the foreground. It is not stupidly 


improved, but the resulting painting is not a tj^aical Segers paint- 
ing. I feel a real connection to his art. He was one of those clair- 
voyant and totally independent figures hundreds of years ahead of 
his time. Encountering Segers was as if someone had reached out 
with his hand across time and touched my shoulders. His land- 
scapes are not landscapes at all; they are states of mind, full of 
angst, desolation, solitude, a state of dreamlike vision. I often 
think about what an extraordinary cultural upheaval would have 
taken place throughout the world if cinema had been discovered a 
hundred years earlier, and if the writers and artists I draw on - 
Segers, Kleist,-* Holderlin' and Biichner^ - had had cinema to 
express themselves. 

What about musical and literary influences? 

Musical influences have always been very strong, maybe the 
strongest. People think it strange that music could be the most impor- 
tant influence on a filmmaker, but to me it seems quite natural. The 
early composers like Monteverdi, Gesualdo or Roland de Lassus I 
like very much. Or let's go back even earlier to Johannes Ciconia, 
Martim Codax or Pierre Abelard. I would have to say musical fig- 
ures have been more of an influence on me than literary ones. 
Like I said, I do not read that much, but when I do read it is 
always a very intense experience for me. There are works of lit- 
erature about which I can only speak of in awe - and I speak 
particularly of German writers here - like Biichner's Woyzeck, 
Kleist's short stories, Holderlin's poetry. It is these men who were 
truly exploring the farthest borders of the German language. More 
recently I like Peter Handke and Thomas Bernhard, though of 
course they are both Austrians. And I would rather read the 1545 
Bible translation of Martin Luther than any of the German 
romantics. Joseph Conrad's short stories, and Hemingway's first 
forty-nine stories, who can walk past them? And of course the first 
real modern writer in English, Lawrence Sterne, particularly his 
wonderful Sentimental Journey. His Tristram Shandy does not 
seern to be read much these days, but I strongly recommend it to 
all writers out there. It is such a thoroughly modern novel; the way 
it is narrated still looks so fresh. Let us bring Harmony Korine 
back again; he loves the book because it does not have a linear 


narrative, and of course Harmony is not the man to tell his own 
stories as a normal movie story flows. His approach, like Sterne's, 
has much more to do with associations and strange jumps and 
contradictions and wild ravings and rantings. 

If I was caught on a lonely island the book I would want with 
me, without a doubt, is the Oxford English Dictionary, all twenty 
volumes. One of the greatest cultural monuments that the human 
race has ever created, such an incredible achievement of human 

Are there any particular filmmakers with whom you have really 

Of the filmmakers with whom I feel some kinship, Griffith,^ 
Murnau,8 Pudovkin,^ Bufiuel"' and Kurosawa" come to mind. 
Everything these men did has the touch of greatness. Griffith I 
always thought of as the Shakespeare of cinema. There are individ- 
ual films that have been very close to me like the Taviani brothers' 
Padre Padrone and, of course, Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne D'Arc. 
Figures like Tarkovsky have made some beautiful films but he is, I 
fear, too much the darling of the French intellectuals, something I 
suspect he worked a little bit towards. For me there are what I call 
'essential' films: kung fu, Fred Astaire, porno. 'Movie' movies, so to 
speak. Something like Mad Max with those car collisions or Broad- 
way Melody of 1940 with Fred Astaire. I love Astaire, the most 
insipid face speaking the most insipid dialogue you will ever hear up 
there on the screen, yet it works beautifully. And Buster Keaton. Just 
thinking about him moves me. He is one of my witnesses when I say 
that some of the very best filmmakers were athletes. He was the 
quintessential athlete, a real acrobat. 

It is the moving image per se that is the message in these kinds of 
films, the way that the film simply moves on the screen without 
asking you questions. I love this kind of cinema. It does not have 
the falseness and phoniness of films that try so hard to pass on a 
heavy idea to the audience or have the fake emotions of most 
Hollywood films. Astaire's emotions were always wonderfully 
stylized. Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual 
counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fii film. 


So you certainly don't subscribe to the belief that your films are in 
any way 'art films'? 

Absolutely not, they are no such thing. I dislike intensely even the 
concept of artists in this day and age. The last King of Egjqjt, King 
Farouk, completely obese in exile, wolfing one lamb leg after 
another, said something very beautiful: 'There are no kings left in 
the world any more, only the King of Hearts, the King of Dia- 
monds, the King of Spades, and the King of Clubs.' The whole 
concept of being an artist is also somehow outdated today. There 
is only one place left where you find artists: the circus. There you 
can find the trapeze artists, the jugglers, even the hunger artist. 
Film is not analysis, it is the agitation of the mind; cinema comes 
from the country fair and the circus, not from art and academicism. 
I truly feel that in the world of the painter or novelist or film direc- 
tor there are no artists. This is a concept that belongs to earlier 
centuries, where there was such a thing as virtue and pistol duels at 
dawn with men in love, and damsels fainting on couches. 
Michelangelo, Caspar David Friedrich and Hercules Segers: 
these men are artists. 'Art' is a legitimate concept in their respec- 
tive eras. They are like the emperors and kings who remain the 
crucial figures in the history of humankind and whose influence is 
felt even today, something that certainly cannot be said of monar- 
chies today. I am speaking not about the death of the artist; i just 
feel that creativity is perceived with something of an outdated and 
antiquated perspective. That is why I detest the word 'genius'. It 
too is a word that belongs to an earlier time and not to our own 
era. It is a sick concept nowadays, and this is why with utmost 
caution did I once call Kinski a 'genius'. My use of the word comes 
close to my feelings about the man, but the expression itself and 
the concept behind it is something that heralds from the late 
eighteenth century and just does not fit comfortably today. 

So if your films are not art, what are they? 

I often ask myself how I would like my work to be perceived. I 
would prefer that the films are seen rather like the work of artisans 
of the late mediaeval times, people who had workshops and 
apprentices and who never considered themselves as artists. All the 
sculptors before Michelangelo considered themselves stonemasons; 


no one really thought of themselves as an 'artist' until maybe the 
late fifteenth century. Before that they were master craftsmen with 
apprentices who produced work on commission from popes or 
Biirgermeisters or whoever. This reminds me of the story that I 
speak of with director Heiner Miiller in The Transformation of the 
World into Music. After Michelangelo had finished the Pieta in 
Rome, one of the Medici family forced him to build a snowman in 
the garden of the family villa. He had no qualms about it; without 
a word he just went out and built the snowman. I like this attitude 
and feel there is something of absolute defiance in it. 
What I also like are the late mediaeval painters, many of whom 
were anonymous; for example, the anonymous master of the Koln 
triptych. To remain anon3mious behind what you have created 
means that your work has an even stronger life of its own, and the 
work is all that is important. I have always felt that the creator is 
of no intrinsic importance, and this counts when it comes to my 
own work too. Of course, in practical terms this is impossible 
because the ramifications of today's media mean that when you 
make a film there are so many collaborators, and it is inevitable 
that people will know who wrote the screenplay and who 
directed. Look at the Dogme films: one rule is the directors remain 
anonymous. But this is ridiculous, we all know who directed the 
films simply because they cannot resist being appearing on every 
TV station from here to Tokyo and back again. 

Your next film was a wonderful little piece shot in the United 
States, How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck. How did 
you end up in New Holland, Pennsylvania, at the World Champi- 
onship of Livestock Auctioneers? 

I was fascinated by livestock auctioneers and always had the feel- 
ing that their incredible language was the real poetry of capitalism. 
Every system develops its own sort of extreme language, like the 
ritual chants of the Orthodox Church, and there is something final 
and absolute about the language the auctioneers speak over there. 
After all, how much further can it go from there? It is frightening 
but quite beautiful at the same time; there is a real music in the 
delivery of the speech, the sense of rhythm these people have. It is 
almost like a ritual incantation. 


I went out to make the film during the Championship of Live- 
stock Auctioneers competition because I was in touch with some 
of these great masters of speech. The criteria for the jury were not 
just how wildly the winner would accelerate his speech. It was 
actually a real auction and within two or three hours two and a 
half million dollars and a thousand head of cattle changed hands, 
and so the jury had to note if the auctioneer was able to spot all the 
secret bidders. Another element is how trustworthy will the auc- 
tioneer be, how well will he raise the price of the cattle, and how 
good a broker is he. My dream ever since has been to go back and 
do a version of Hamlet in under fifteen minutes. All of the world 
champions of this livestock auction speaking Shakespeare. It 
would be great poetry. 

Some years ago you said that America was the most exotic country 
on the planet. What did you mean by that? 

I truly love places like the midwest of America, for example Wis- 
consin, where we filmed Stroszek. These are the kinds of areas you 
would normally expect the greatest talents to come from. Orson 
Welles was from Wisconsin, Marlon Brando was from Nebraska, 
Bob Dylan from Minnesota, Hemingway from Illinois, these 'mid- 
dle of nowhere' kinds of places, to say nothing of the South which 
spawned the brilliance of Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. I 
really like this kind of country. For me it is the very heart of Amer- 
ica. You still see the self-reliance and camaraderie out there, the 
warm open hearts, the down-to-earth people, whereas so much of 
America had abandoned these wonderful and basic virtues. 
One thing I do like about America is its spirit of advancement 
and exploration. There is definitely something bold about Amer- 
ica. I very much like this idea of giving everyone an equal chance 
to succeed no matter who you are. If a barefoot Indian from the 
Andes had invented the wheel the patent office in Washington 
would have assisted him securing his rights. I have been to a huge 
scientific corporation in Cleveland, Ohio, with something like 
z,ooo people working there. The boss of the whole place was 
twenty-eight years old. That really impresses me. It is absolutely 
unthinkable in Germany. 



You went back to America to shoot Stroszek. Do you agree with 
those people who felt the film was some kind of humorous critique 
of American capitalism? 

To a certain extent the film is about the American way of life, but 
that is absolutely not the reason I made Stroszek. Originally, at the 
time I wanted to make Woyzeck and had promised Bruno that he 
could play the title role. He did not know the play, but I explained 
it to him and he kind of liked the whole idea. But all of a sudden I 
realized that this would be a massive mistake. It was clear to me 
that it was Kinski who should play the part, so I immediately 
called Bruno to let him know. You must have the courage to say 
these things without hesitation. There was a kind of stunned 
silence at the other end of the line. 'I have already booked my vaca- 
tion. What am I going to do?' he said. It was very clear that it had 
meant a lot to Bruno to be in the film, and I felt so ashamed and 
embarrassed that out of the blue I said, 'You know, Bruno, we will 
do another film instead.' And he said, 'What film?' I said, 'I do not 
know yet. What day is it?' 'Monday,' he said. So I just said, 'By 
Saturday you will have the screenplay. And I will even give it a title 


now which sounds like Woyzeck. It will be called Stroszek.' I felt a 
kind of relief at the other end of the phone, but after hanging up 
found myself on Monday at midday with a title and the task to 
write a story for Bruno. I delivered it on Saturday. I still think it is 
one of my best pieces of writing and one of my finest films. The 
title comes from the name of the lead character in Signs of Life, 
which in turn came from a guy I vaguely knew years before. I was 
enrolled at university in Munich but hardly ever showed up for 
class and asked this guy to write a paper for me. 'What will you 
give me in return?' he asked. 'Well, Mr Stroszek,' I said, 'one day I 
will make your name famous.' And I did just that. 

It seems that the character of Stroszek is much closer to the real 
Bruno than that ofKasparHauser. 

Stroszek is a film very much built around Bruno. It reflected my 
own knowledge of him and his environment, his emotions and 
feelings, and also my deep affection for him. In that way it was 
easy to write the screenplay. Sometimes filmmaking is all about 
stylization, but with Stroszek we were dealing with real human 
suffering. This is not like the suffering you find in a theatre, acted 
out and turned into gross melodrama. With Bruno you always see 
true suffering on the screen. His character in the film is very close 
to the real Bruno, and even today it is difficult for me to watch 
some scenes of the film. The sequence in the apartment when the 
two pimps beat Eva Mattes up and throw Bruno over the piano 
pains me so much because it was probably the kind of treatment 
that had been doled out to him for years when he was a child. 
There is such magnificence in his performance. 'I'm going to be a 
good soldier, and I've been hurt much worse before,' he said before 
we shot the scene. Though the film was scripted from start to fin- 
ish, some scenes were improvised; for example, when Bruno 
speaks to Eva Mattes about his solitude and pain as a child in an 
institution, when he wet his bed and was forced to hold his bed- 
sheet up for hours until it was dry or he was beaten. That really 
happened to him. Eva was so good in the scene as she just kept 
listening and encouraging him. She always knew exactly how to 
trigger certain responses from Bruno and to push the scene in the 
right direction. And the scenes in Berlin of him singing and pla3dng 


the accordion in the city show exactly what he would do every 
weekend. Bruno knows every courtyard and alleyway of Berlin, 
and some of the songs he sings in the film he wrote himself. The 
place where he goes immediately after leaving prison is his local 
beer cellar where everyone knew him, and all the props he uses in 
the film, all the musical instruments, were his own. 
So the idea of in some way writing a critique of capitalism just did 
not enter my head. Lines like Bruno talking about being in America 
originated because we were in America. Of course, the film does 
reflect something of what I experienced when I lived in Pittsburgh 
where I saw the underside of America, though I say that with real 
affection. The film does not criticize the country; it is almost a eulogy 
to the place. For me Stroszek is about shattered hopes, which is 
clearly a universal theme, and it would not really matter if they had 
moved from Berlin to France or Sweden. I simply felt familiar 
enough with America to set the second part of the story there. 

The apartment in Germany that Stroszek lives in is actually 
Bruno's own Berlin apartment, isn't it? 

Yes, and after getting the apartment with his salary from Kaspar 
Hauser Bruno bought a piano. He loves music and liked Kaspar 
Mauser very much in part because of the music. I remember watch- 
ing the film with him and he kept squeezing my fingertips whenever 
the music came on. 'This is into Der Bruno's heart,' he would say. 
'Yes, this is feeling strong in Der Bruno's heart now.' He was very 
proud at being self-taught at the piano, so I told him I would write 
some scenes for him in Stroszek where he could play the piano. You 
can also see him play in Kaspar Hauser, and even today I feel that 
Bruno's ability to play the way he did, and to express such profound 
thoughts in the kind of dilettantish way he did, is true culture. After 
all, how often do you really see such agitation of the mind? 
Bruno was a very inventive man. He had started to paint -I sup- 
pose you would call them 'naive paintings' - and years ago showed 
me a great discovery that he wanted to be submitted to the Acad- 
emy of Sciences in Germany. He would always rummage around 
city garbage cans and so his apartment was always full of these 
'found' objects. One time he found two dozen old ventilators, a 
couple of which still worked. So he painted one ventilator blade 


yellow, one blue, one red and so on, and when the ventilators spun 
around all of a sudden the colours would disappear, and it would 
look white. He was convinced he was the first person who had dis- 
covered such a thing. 

What did Bruno think of America? 

He loved it. New York was just stunning for him, just like it is for 
everyone who sees the city for the first time. The sequences in the 
city were all filmed in a single day as we had no shooting permit and 
spent the day trying - and failing - to dodge the police. We were 
improvising the whole day. For example, when we saw from the top 
of the Empire State Building a boat arriving in the pier, we decided 
to have the three of them arrive like real European immigrants and 
went down to the pier. The shot of them driving in a car was done 
with Thomas Mauch and me strapped to the hood of the car. We 
got stopped by the police, I think it was the third time that day, and 
I was handcuffed. The second time it happened I told the police- 
man, 'We're just a bunch of crazy Kraut film students,' and they let 
us go. Then half an hour later the same cop caught us again. 
One thing ro add is that the whole crew somehow found Stroszek 
pretty stupid and embarrassing, I do not know why. It was very dif- 
ficult to keep the shooting out of the range of these bad moods that 
were inhabiting the set; there was no way to free it from this all- 
pervasive mood. You do not sense it in the film, but it was quite a 
hidden achievement to finish the film. It had nothing to do with 
Bruno; we all liked him. The only one who did not like him was 
Herr Scheitz, who plays the old man. He was always complaining 
that Bruno smelt. But Eva Mattes and Bruno got on very well; it 
was the small crew of about ten people who were the problem. 

Where did you find Clemens Scheitz, who was also in The Enigma 
of Kaspar Hauser and Heart of Glass? 

I needed extras for Kaspar Hauser and was looking through the 
card index of extras. I had gone through about 200 of them and got 
stuck on his face. The agency suggested I choose someone else. 
'Even though we work in the interests of our clients,' they said, 'we 
should warn you that Herr Scheitz is not completely right in his 
head any more.' I said I did not mind, I want him anyway. He was 


a charming old man, who in between two sips of coffee could 
describe to you the function of the rocket he had just built, or who 
could prove to you by writing a few numbers on a restaurant table- 
cloth that Einstein and Newton were absolute fools. He was also a 
piano player who was always in the process of writing a magnifi- 
cent oratorio. The scene when he talks about animal magnetism in 
Stroszek was my idea, but it comes very close to what his own ideas 
were. We were out in a tiny place in the middle of nowhere on the 
highway. It was hunting season and a couple of hunters pulled up. 
I asked them if they wanted to be in the film, and told them to just 
listen to Herr Scheitz talking and when they'd had enough to just 
get into their car and drive off. Of course, they did not understand 
a word he said but they played along wonderfully. The whole scene 
was shot basically in real time. There is only one quick change of 
camera position while we ran around to the other side of the car, 
but otherwise what you see is exactly what happened. The two guys 
just drove off. I never knew their names and never saw them again. 
Herr Scheitz was always full of fantasies and said he was work- 
ing on a universal study which was already in his mind but that he 
would never write down in case the FBI stole it. He was always 
talking about how he would never dare fly a plane into Berlin, 
which at the time was deep inside East Germany. 'The KGB will 
kidnap me and torture my secrets out of me,' he insisted. He had 
constructed a rocket which would hit a target dead on even after a 
30,000 mile flight. I liked him so much in Kaspar Mauser that I 
kept on asking him to stay for another scene, to the point where he 
basically appears throughout the film. I even rewrote the end of the 
film so he would have the final word. In Stroszek, in particular, I 
tried to develop his character a little bit around his real 'madness' 
or whatever you call it. For me he always made sense. 

Why did you thank Errol Morris in the opening credits? 

Around the time of Stroszek, Errol Morris'^ had been deeply 
involved in researching mass murderers. He had collected unbeliev- 
able material, thousands of pages of the most incredible material, 
and planned to put it all into a book. He had spent months in a 
town called Plainfield, Wisconsin, and kept talking to me about 
the place. It was a tiny place in the middle nowhere with 480 


inhabitants. What is so extraordinary about Plainfield is that 
within the space of five years something like five or six mass mur- 
derers emerged from the town. There was no apparent reason for 
this. I know it sounds crazy, but this is all true. There was some- 
thing very gloomy and evil about Plainfield, and even during 
filming two bodies were found only ten miles from where we were 
filming. I certainly felt it was one of those places that are focal 
points where every thread converges and is tied into a knot. You 
have these points in the United States - for example, Las Vegas, 
or the Stock Exchange on Wall Street, or San Quentin prison - 
where the dreams and nightmares all come together. And I count 
Plainfield, Wisconsin, amongst them. 

Errol was attracted to the place because it was the town where 
Ed Gein, the man who had inspired the Norman Bates character in 
Psycho, had lived and committed his murders. Errol had spoken to 
the sheriffs and townspeople and even to Gein himself and had 
hundreds of pages of transcripts of his interviews. But he was stuck 
with one very puzzling question: Ed Gein had not only murdered 
several people, he had also dug up freshly buried corpses from the 
cemetery and had preserved the flesh by building a throne and a 
lampshade out of it all. Errol somehow discovered that the graves 
he had dug up actually formed a perfect circle, and at the very cen- 
tre of the circle was Gein's mother. He was puzzled by the question 
of whether or not Gein had actually dug up his own mother, and 
one day somewhere out of the blue I said to him, 'Errol, you will 
only know if you go back to Plainfield and dig there yourself. If the 
grave is empty, Ed Gein was there before you.' We decided we 
would go there and dig together and we were both quite excited 
about it. I was shooting a couple of sequences for Heart of Glass 
at the time in Alaska and on my way back to New York crossed the 
border from Canada and headed down to Plainfield. I was actually 
there waiting for Errol, but he chickened out and never showed up. 
Later on I realized that it was the best thing. Sometimes it is much 
better to have a question and no answer. 

Later I went back to film in the town. I loved shooting in Plain- 
field. The scenes of Eva working in the truck stop were filmed in a 
real truck stop in the middle of the day. I just went in there and 
asked if we could film. 'Sure!' the owner said. 'We just love having 
you Krauts around!' So we told the truckers to be themselves and 


Eva just went around pouring their coffee. Ed Lachman, the sec- 
ond cameraman, was a very important part of the production in 
this respect. He would be the one to explain to the townsfolk and 
the truckers what was going on and what they should say. We 
called the town Railroad Flats in the film because Plainfield was 
still kind of Errol's terrain. He had 'discovered' it and was really 
pissed off at me, accusing me of stealing his landscapes. Such a fine 
spirit he has, and a truly visionary filmmaker. So in a pathetic 
attempt to appease him I thanked him at the start of the film. I 
think he has forgiven me by now. 

I've always found La Soufriere, filmed on a Caribbean island about 
to explode, one of your most entertaining films. It has a kind of 
ridiculous and bizarre profundity to it with the shots of you and 
the cameramen Ed Lachman and J org Schmidt-Reitwein running 
from clouds of toxic gas wafting down the mountainside as you 
wait for this 'unavoidable catastrophe'. 

There is certainly an element of self-mockery in the final film. 
Everything that looks so dangerous and doomed ultimately ends 
up in utter banality. That is fine, I had to accept it as it was, and of 
course, in retrospect, I have to thank God on my knees that it was 
not otherwise. It is a good job the film is missing its potentially vio- 
lent climax. It really would have been absolutely ridiculous to be 
blown to pieces by a volcano with two colleagues whilst making a 

For La Soufriere, since we really did not know if the island we 
were standing on was about to be blown apart by a volcano, each 
of us had to make his own decision. As soon as I heard about the 
impending volcanic eruption, that the island of Guadeloupe had 
been evacuated and that one peasant had refused to leave, I knew 
I wanted to go talk to him and find out what kind of relationship 
towards death he had. I immediately called up the television exec- 
utive with whom I had a working relationship going back to The 
Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner. I really needed to speak with 
to him because if I did not leave quickly the whole thing might be 
over. The volcano would explode and the film would be dead. He 
was in a meeting at the time so I asked his assistant to drag him out 
of there for only sixty seconds no matter where he was, what he 


La Soufriere 

was doing or how important the people he was with were. 'Tell 
him Herzog needs to talk to him for sixty seconds.' I think in fifty 
seconds I explained the situation to him and he said, 'Just get out 
of here and do it.' And I said, 'How do we do the contract?' All he 
said was, 'Come back alive and we do the contract.' And he was 
gone, as simple as that. And we did the contract on our return. I 
love the man for his faith, a true believer. Let me name horse and 
rider: Manfred Konzelmann. 

Ed Lachman came from New York, and I flew from Germany 
with Schmidt-Reitwein and we met up in Pointe-a-Pitre in Guade- 
loupe. Before we arrived on the island - and then even as we were 
driving past roadblocks up the side of the volcano - I repeatedly 
asked them if they really wanted to do this. I told them: 'I am def- 
initely going, but you have to make this decision yourself. I need a 
single camera and can shoot it all myself if necessary.' Schmidt- 
Reitwein immediately said yes; there was no doubt he was always 
going to come along. Lachman had some initial hesitations, quite 
understandably so. He needed to take a leak, so he stepped out of 
the car and then meekly asked me, "What will happen if the island 
blows up?' 'Ed, we are going to be airborne,' I said. It kind of 
encouraged him and he immediately picked up his camera. We left 


a camera in the far distance which would chck single frames all 
day long, so if we had been airborne there would at least have been 
some frames of us making it upwards. 

I'm sure you can see how films like this got you this public persona 
as a risk-taking madman. 

I can laugh about it now, but of course what we wanted to do 

was to get out of there with a film in our cameras. I am not in the 
business of suicide and there was nothing of bravado about the 
experience. We did not go there to get blown up. Blind and stupid 
risk-taking is not something I generally practise. I am simply not 
that kind of a filmmaker. But I do have to admit that with a film like 
La Soufiiere we were playing the lottery. But please note: it really 
was one of the few occasions I have done something like this. 
The film's commentary and the full title of the film. La Soufriere: 
Waiting for an Unavoidable Catastrophe, do both suggest the 
absurd nature of our task, but this was based on the experts who 
said that the explosion of the mountain was guaranteed with 
almost lOO per cent certainty. It was calculated the volcano was 
going to blow with the force of several Hiroshima-sized atomic 
bombs, so if it had gone up and we were within a five-mile radius 
there would be absolutely nothing we could do. And anyway, we 
were standing on a deep fissure that had been ripped open right on 
the rim of this steaming volcano that was emitting toxic gases. We 
had to approach the thing from the leeward side, and we had a real 
fright one morning when the wind changed and all of a sudden these 
toxic fumes came drifting down towards us. The day after, Ed 
Lachman realized he had left his glasses up there and so was really 
helpless. I decided to go back for the glasses and the others fol- 
lowed, but we soon discovered that there had been so many shock- 
waves - some of them quite serious - that the whole landscape had 
been ripped apart yet again and everything looked different. 
I knew that if I could escape from this one alive then I would be 
able to joke about it afterwards. I saw myself as the captain in the 
joke that I like about Italians in the trenches during the First World 
War. For weeks they are being bombarded, day after day, until one 
day their captain grabs a rifle and shouts, 'Up men! Attack!' And 
before he has gone two steps he is mowed down by enemy fire and 


falls back into the trench. All the Italian soldiers who have been 
quietly sitting smoking applaud and say, 'Bravo, Captain, bravo.' 
Thankfully, La Soufriere was one of those moments when we were 
not mowed down. 

Do you see your version of Nosferatu as a remake of Murnau's film 
or something much more than that? And for you is it a genre film? 

I never thought of my film Nosferatu as being a remake. It stands on 
its own feet as an entirely new version. It is like both Dreyer and 
Bresson, '3 who made films about Joan of Arc: one is not a remake 
of the other. My Nosferatu has a different context, different figures 
and a somewhat different story. It is a very clear declaration of my 
connection to the very best of German cinema, and though I have 
never truly functioned in terms of genres, I did appreciate that mak- 
ing a film like Nosferatu meant understanding the basic principles 
about the vampire genre, and then asking, 'How am I going to 
modify and develop this genre further?' It was kind of what I did 
with the 'adventure' genre when I was making Aguirre. 
The images found in vampire films have a quality beyond our 
usual experiences in the cinema. For me genre means an intensive, 
almost dreamlike, stylization on screen, and I feel the vampire genre 
is one of the richest and most fertile cinema has to offer. There is 
fantasy, hallucination, dreams and nightmares, visions, fear and, of 
course, mythology. What I really sought to do was connect my 
Nosferatu with our true Gterman cultural heritage, the silent films of 
the Weimar era'^ and Murnau's work in particular. If his Nosferatu 
is a genre film then mine inevitably is one too. In many ways, for me, 
this film was the final chapter of the vital process of 're-legitimization' 
of German culture that had been going on for some years. 

7s this where your friendship with Lotte Eisner became even more 

Yes. Lotte Eisner's proved to be crucial in this respect. I have said 
many times that as children growing up in post-war Germany we 
had grandfathers but no fathers to learn from. Many men had 
been killed in the war or were in captivity. My own father was 
alive but not around for much of the time, and Fassbinder's father 
abandoned his family very early on. As filmmakers coming of age 


in the early and mid-1960s, we were the first real post-war gener- 
ation, young Germans with no one around who could give us 
points of reference. We were orphans who had no teachers and no 
masters to learn from and in whose footsteps we wanted to follow, 
unburdened by any traditions or rituals. For a time in the 1960s 
and 70s, West German cinema was fresh and exciting, encompass- 
ing many different subjects and styles, for just this reason. The 
father generation had either sided with the barbaric Nazi culture 
or was chased out of the country. With a few exceptions, before 
the 1960s - directors like Staudtei"^ and Kautner^^ - there had been 
no 'legitimate' German cinema since 30 January 1933, the day 
Hitler came to power. Lotte Eisner left the country the very same 
day, and Fritz Lang left soon afterwards. A gap of thirty years 
opened up. As a filmmaker you clearly cannot work without hav- 
ing some coherence with your own culture. Continuity is vital. So 
it was our 'grandfathers' - Lang, Murnau, Pabst and others - who 
became our points of reference. Incidentally, I have already men- 
tioned my own archaeologist grandfather, who was much more 
important to me than my father. 

For me, Nosferatu is the greatest of all German films, and feeling 
as strongly as I did that I needed to connect to this 'legitimate' 
German culture in order to find my roots as a filmmaker, I chose to 
concentrate on Murnau's masterpiece, knowing full well it would be 
impossible to better the original. It was not nostalgia, rather my 
admiration of the heroic age of cinema that gave birth to the film in 
1922. By this I do not mean I set out to explore German cinema of 
the 1920s. I never felt I was emulating a particular tradition. What 
I mean is that many of my generation shared a similar attitude to 
Murnau and his contemporaries: cinema as legitimate culture. 
When I had finished Nosferatu I remember thinking, 'Now I am 
connected, I have reached the other side of the river at last.' This 
might sound rather melodramatic when I speak of it today and 
might have been incomprehensible to British, Italian or French 
filmmakers at the time - countries that managed to kick-start film 
production after the war with relative ease - but was something that 
impacted on many young German filmmakers back in the 1970s. 

Are you saying that when it came to 'legitimacy' you couldn't just 
proclaim it yourselves? You needed someone to do it for you? 


Of course we could not merely issue a self-empowering decree. Just 
as Charlemagne had to travel to Rome to ask the Pope to anoint 
him, in the case of New German Cinema we were fortunate to have 
Lotte Eisner to give us her blessing. She was the missing link, our 
collective conscience, a fugitive from Nazism, and for many years 
the single living person in the world who knew everyone in cinema 
from its first hour on, a veritable woolly mammoth. Lotte was one 
of the most important film historians the world has ever seen and 
had personally known all the great figures of early cinema: Eisen- 
stein, Griffith, Sternberg, Chaplin, Murnau, Renoir, even the Lumiere 
brothers and Melies. And other generations too: Bufiuel, Kuro- 
sawa, just everyone. So she alone had the authority, insight and the 
personality to declare us legitimate, and it was vitally important 
when she insisted that what my generation was doing in Germany 
was as legitimate as the film culture that Murnau, Lang and the 
other Weimar filmmakers had created all those years previously. 
I first met Lotte because of her voice. At the Berlin Film Festival 
in maybe 1965 she gave a lecture, the first time she had returned to 
Germany since 1933. I walked past the open door of the lecture 
hall and heard her voice. It was so stunning and so special I just 
walked in and listened. What she said was so extraordinary I felt it 
was my duty to find out who she was. Later I discovered she had 
wanted to speak to me after seeing Signs of Life but did not dare 
contact me. A friend finally said to me, 'Lotte speaks so highly of 
you and she doesn't dare to meet you, and you speak so highly of 
her and you do not dare to meet her either. I will get you together.' 
I did not meet her until 1969. One of the most memorable things 
about the shooting of Kaspar Hauser was that Lotte was there for 
some of the time. For her to show up on the set of one of my films 
was for me a great honour, something very significant for me. She 
did not ask anything; she just sat there and had a pleased face the 
whole time. It gave me a lot of confidence. 

Apparently, when Fritz Lang said it was impossible that there 
were any real German films any longer, Lotte told him to see Signs 
of Life. Her affirmation and support was what gave me the 
strength to continue battling against the heavy criticism of my 
work for at least ten years. There were many moments when no 
one wanted to see my films. I vividly remember sitting with Lotte 
in her Paris apartment drinking tea and almost casually saying to 




her, 'I just cannot go on.' And in between a sip of tea whilst 
munching a cookie, without even looking at me, she very calmly 
just said, 'You are not going to quit. Film history will not allow 
you.' Then she went on about her noisy neighbours or something 
like that. It was one of the key moments of my life. 

For Nosferatu did you go back to the original Stoker novel or did 
you base your own script directly on Mumau's film? 

I could probably have made a vampire film without the existence 
of Murnau's film, but there is a certain reverence I tried to pay to 
his Nosferatu and on one or two occasions I even tried to quote 
him literally by matching the same shots he used in his version. I 
went to Liibeck where he filmed the vampire's lair and found 
among the few houses there not destroyed during the war those 
Murnau had used. They were being used as salt warehouses, but 
where in 1922 there had been small bushes, I found tall trees. 
The reason Murnau's film is not called Dracula is because Bram 
Stoker's estate wanted so much money for the rights, so Murnau 
made a few unsubtle changes to his story and retitled it. My own 
film was solely based on the original Nosferatu, though I knew I 
wanted to inject a different spirit into my film. In Murnau's film 
the creature is frightening because he is without a soul and looks 
like an insect. But from Kinski's vampire you get real existential 
anguish. I tried to 'humanize' him. I wanted to endow him with 
human suffering and solitude, with a true longing for love and, 
importantly, the one essential capacity of human beings: mortality. 
Kinski plays against his appendages, the long fingernails and the 
pointed ears. I feel that his vampire is actually a very erotic figure. 
Moreover, in the film evil does not have only negative aspects; for 
example, the plague scene where there is real joy. 
Stoker's noveli? is a kind of compilation of all the vampire sto- 
ries floating around from romantic times. What is interesting is 
that it focuses so much on new technology; for example, the use of 
telegrams and early recording machines, the Edison cylinders. Like 
the changes society was undergoing in the nineteenth century, 
there may well be something similar taking place today, as for 
some time we have been living in the digital age. In both cases 
there is something of an uneasiness in society, and vampire stories 


always seem to accumulate in times of restlessness. The novel is 
strangely obsessed with these kinds of things, and in this way 
Stoker was quite far-sighted by somehow anticipating our era of 
mass communication. At its heart, the vampire story is about solitude 
and now, more than a century later, as we witness this explosive 
evolution of means of communication. Stoker's work has a real 
and powerful actuality to it. His story is structured in an interest- 
ing way, using all these forms of communication to carry the story 
along, something which does not emerge in film versions. 
While we are talking about communication, allow me to add 
something. It is my firm belief, and I say this as a dictum, that all 
these tools now at our disposal, these things part of this explosive 
evolution of means of communication, mean we are now heading 
for an era of solitude. Along with this rapid growth of forms of 
communication at our disposal - be it fax, phone, email, internet or 
whatever - human solitude will increase in direct proportion. It 
might sound paradoxical, but it is not. It might appear that these 
things remove us from our isolation, but isolation is very different 
from solitude. When you are caught in a snowdrift in South Dakota, 
fifty miles from the next town, your isolation can be overcome with 
a mere cellular phone. But solitude is something more existential. 

There was a great deal of press at the time about the fact that you 
let thousands of rats loose in the town square in Delft, the town in 
Holland which substituted for Wismar in the film. 

I was looking for a northern German or Baltic town with boats and 
canals and a Dutch friend of mine suggested Delft. As soon as I saw 
the town I was fascinated by it. Delft is so tranquil, so bourgeois, so 
self-assured and solid and has remained unchanged for centuries. 
Because of this I felt it would be the perfect place to shoot this 
story. The horror and destruction would show up very effectively in 
such a clean and uncontaminated town. I have always felt that rats 
possess a kind of fantasy element in that they are the only mammals 
whose numbers surpass those of man. The figure is something like 
three to one, and our fear of the creatures stem in part from this 
fact. Before we started shooting I explained to the city council in 
Delft exactly what I had in mind, and got an OK on everything. I 
had presented to them in great detail the technical plans we had to 


prevent a single rat from escaping. But many people in Delft were 
nervous because the town is full of canals and for decades there was 
a very serious rat problem which had only recently been overcome. 
So there was a developing feeling of unease. 

Where did you get the rats from? 

They were from a laboratory in Hungary and it was very difficult to 
transport them across Europe. At every border customs checked the 
medical certificates, and one time an official opened one of the boxes 
to check the contents and fainted. When we bought the rats they 
were snow white and had to be dyed grey. There was a huge factory 
in Germany that produced shampoo and hair dye that would test 
their products on rats because the texture of rat hair is very similar to 
that of human hair. I went to this factory along with Henning von 
Grierke, a painter who did the set design of the film, and Cornelius 
Siegel, the special-effects expert who taught at the University of Bre- 
men. Cornelius was the guy who set the glass factory on fire in Heart 
of Glass and single-handedly built the clock that you see at the start 
of Nosferatu. We asked at the factory how we should go about dye- 
ing 10,000 rats and they gave us the idea of dipping the wire cages 
for a second into the dye. Cornelius designed this massive conveyor 
belt for dipping, washing and dr3dng. We had to wash them off with 
lukewarm water immediately and blow-dry them with a huge system 
of hair-dryers otherwise they would have caught pneumonia. 
What we did before we released the rats in the town was to seal 
off every single gully, every single side street and doorway. Along 
the canal we fixed nets to prevent any single animal from getting 
into the water and even had people in boats down in the canal to 
collect any creatures that might have escaped. When filming in 
the town square we had a movable wooden wall just behind the 
camera, and another in an alley at the end of the street. When the 
signal was given, both walls moved out of their hiding places and 
would noisily move towards each other, trapping the rats in an 
increasingly narrower space so they could then be caged. Fact is, 
we never lost a single rat. 

This was your second outing with Kinski. What was he Uke to 
work with this time? 


Kinski loved the work and for pretty much the whole time on set 
he was happy, even though he would throw a tantrum maybe every 
other day. He was at ease with himself and the world at the time 
and loved to sit with his Japanese make-up artist Reiko Kruk for 
hours and hours. He would listen to Japanese music as she 
sculpted him every morning, putting his ears and fingernails on. 
We had to do the teeth and ears and shave his head every morning 
and just seeing him with this enormous patience was a fine sight. I 
would walk in and sit with him for fifteen minutes. We did not 
talk, we just looked at each other in the mirror and nodded at each 
other. He was good with the project, and he was good with him- 
self. Though the film is close to two hours and Klaus is on screen 
for maybe seventeen minutes, his vampire dominates absolutely 
every single scene. That is the finest compliment I can give him for 
his performance. Everything in the film works towards these sev- 
enteen minutes. His character is constantly present because of the 
story and the images which intensify this sense of doom and terror 
and anxiety. It took fifty years to find a vampire to rival the one 
Murnau created, and I say that no one in the next fifty years will 
be able to play Nosferatu like Kinski has done. This is not a 
prophecy, rather an absolute certitude. I could give you fifty years 
and a million dollars to find someone better than Kinski and you 
would fail. And I think Isabelle Adjani is also quite remarkable in 
the film, the perfect counterpart to BGnski's monster. Her role was 
an extremely difficult one: she had to be frightened of the vampire 
and at the same time be attracted to him, something she really 
managed to communicate to the audience. 

Like some of your other features, there was more than one lan- 
guage version of Nosferatu. What language did you shoot the film 
in originally? 

As with Aguirre, where we had people from sixteen countries on 
the set, English was the common language. This included Kinski 
and Adjani. As a filmmaker you have to make a choice, not just to 
make communication on set easier, but also for the sake of the 
international distributors, and for them English is always the 
preferred language. But even though the film was shot in English, 
we did dub a German version of the film which I have always 


considered the more convincing version. I do not dare to speak of 
the 'better' version. I speak of the more 'culturally authentic' ver- 

Where did you film the scene at Dracula 's castle? 

Whatever you see of Transylvania was shot in former Czechoslo- 
vakia, much of it actually in Moravia at the castle of Pernstein, and 
in the High Tatra mountains. Originally, I had wanted to shoot in 
Transylvania proper, in Romania, but was not allowed to because 
of problems with the Ceausescu regime. I actually never received a 
direct refusal from the government, but got word from some 
friendly Romanian filmmakers who were very supportive of my 
wishes to shoot in the Carpathians. They advised me to leave the 
country immediately and not wait for permission, as it would 
never come as long as Ceausescu was around. Parliament had 
bestowed upon him the title of the new Vlad Dracul, the historical 
defender of Romania. The title had a contemporary meaning: 
Ceausescu defending the country against the Soviet Empire. It 
turned out these local filmmakers were right, though I had a 
wonderful time in Romania searching for locations, methodically 
travelling every path of the Carpathian mountains. 

Five days after you finished shooting Nosferatu, you continued 
with the same crew and, of course, lead actor, and shot Woyzeck. 
Why did you make these films back to back? 

Today Woyzeck seems like a little hiccup after Nosferatu. It took 
seventeen days to shoot and only five days to edit, and I would 
have started shooting the day after we finished Nosferatu but we 
had to let BCinski's hair grow for the role. It was mainly for techni- 
cal and bureaucratic reasons that we continued with the same crew 
on a new film. At that time in Czechoslovakia it was an endless 
saga to obtain shooting permits. We had ended up shooting the 
second half of Nosferatu in Moravia and other places in the east- 
ern part of Slovakia, and I thought it was a good idea to just con- 
tinue shooting Woyzeck but tell the authorities it was still 
Nosferatu we were working on. Actually we did start shooting 
pretty much the day after Nosferatu was completed, and I just shot 
around Kinski's part. 


I don't think that Kinski has ever been better. It is a truly stunning 

Kinski was never an actor who would merely play a part. He 
would exhaust himself completely and after Nosferatu he 
remained deeply in the world that we had created together, some- 
thing that was glaringly apparent from the first day he walked on 
to the set of Woyzeck. This really gave his performance a different 
quality and from the opening scenes of the film he seems to be so 
fragile and vulnerable. Look at the shot of him just after the title 
sequence where he is just staring into the camera. There is some- 
thing not quite right with his face. It was actually swollen on one 
side. What happened was that when he was doing his push-ups 
during the title sequence the drill major kicks him to the ground. 
Klaus said to me, 'He's not doing it right, he has to really kick me. 
He can't just pretend to kick me.' The man who does the kicking is 
actually Walter Saxer, the man who is being screamed at by Kinski 
in Burden of Dreams a couple of years later. Kinski was kicked so 
hard into the cobblestones on the ground that his face started to 
swell up. I saw this and said to him, 'BQaus, stop: do not move. Just 
look at me.' He was still exhausted from doing his push-ups, but 
he looks with such power into the camera that it really sets up the 
feel of the rest of the film. 

At the same time he loved plajdng the part so much and in many 
ways was very much in balance with himself during the shoot. If 
something would not go as I had hoped, he would say to me things 
like, 'Werner, what we are doing here is important, and just striv- 
ing for it will give it its appropriate size. Don't worry, it will fall in 
place.' He worked very hard on the text and, unlike so many other 
times, he generally knew his lines. It was truly a joy to work with 
him for those days, and I think back on that time with genuine 
fondness. And yes, he is so good in the role. He truly captured the 
spirit of the part; there is such a smouldering intensity to him. 

This was clearly a project that had been on your mind for a while. 

My film of Georg Buchner's Woyzeck is probably my simplest 
connection to what is the best of my own culture, more so than 
Nosferatu, which was more an explicit connection to a world of 
cinema. Though I have always worked within German culture. 


making a film of Woyzeck meant to reach out to Germany's most 
significant cultural history, and for this reason there is something 
in the film that is beyond me. It touches the very golden heights of 
German culture, and because of this the film sparkles. Yet all I did 
was reach up and touch these heights. 

I had wanted to make a film of Woyzeck for some time. For me 
there is no greater drama in the German language. It is of such 
stunning actuality. There is no really good English translation of 
Woyzeck, nothing really completely satisfying. The drama is a 
fragment, and there has been a very high-calibre debate within 
academic circles as to which order the loose, unpaginated sheets 
should go in. I used an arrangement of scenes that made the most 
sense as a continuous story and I think most theatrical productions 
use this same shape. 

Woji^eck is probably my favourite of your features. It is such a 
tremendously inventive piece of cinema, the way you filmed it in a 
series of long takes. 

We used a series of four-minute-long shots, and so the film is essen- 
tially made up of about twenry-five cuts, plus a couple of smaller 
takes. It was very difficult to maintain this: no one was allowed a 
mistake. It is a film of such economy that I will probably never 
achieve again. What made the whole approach exciting is that the 
film space is created not by cuts and the camera's movement but 
wholly by the actors, by the force of their performances and their 
use of the space around them. Look at the scene where Woyzeck 
tries to flee from the drum major: he heads directly into the lens of 
the camera and at the last moment is pulled back. In a shot like 
that Kinski creates a space far beyond that of the camera; he is 
showing that there is a whole world behind, around and in front of 
the camera. You feel he is crawling desperately towards you, even 
into you. So the creation of space - and how as a director I used it 
- became even more important than normal in Woyzeck. 
I truly like filmmakers who are daring enough to show a whole 
sequence in one single shot. You really have to let your pants down 
if you are trjdng that. What you show on screen has to be very 
strong in order to hold the audience for three or four minutes. Poor 
filmmakers will often move the camera about unnecessarily and use 


flashy tricks and an excess of cuts because they know the material 
is not strong enough to sustain a passive camera. This kind of film- 
making - full of unnecessary jump cuts and things like this - gives 
you a phony impression that something interesting might be going 
on. But for me it is a clear sign that I am watching an empty film. 

You seem to have worked with an array of interesting people over 
the years, very few of them who were actually trained to work in 
film. I assume that this is a very conscious choice for you? 

Many of the people I work with on my films are not professional 
technicians. One of the keys to filmmaking is surrounding yourself 
with people who understand exactly what it is you are trying to 
do, and the only true friends that I have are those I met whilst 
making my films. Strong men and women, imaginative, dedicated, 
trustworthy and, importantly, who have faith. 

Many of the people with whom I have worked repeatedly over 
the years are not trained strictly for film work. Yet they are able to 
bring so much more to the look and feel of a film with their wildly 
divergent approaches. Ulrich Bergfelder, the set designer on many of 
my films, is a specialist in old Provencal languages and troubadour 
literature. Claude Chiarini is a doctor and neurologist in a Parisian 
lunatic asylum who was on the set of Heart of Glass in case one of 
the hypnotized actors would not wake up properly. He was around 
for six weeks taking production stills which are still of exceptional 
quality. Cornelius Siegel, a mathematician and master carpenter, is 
an ingenious man who can do anything. Peter Zeitlinger, the cine- 
matographer who has shot several of my latest films, used to be an 
ice-hockey player which means he really understands the physical 
rhythms that a cameraman needs. Herb Colder, who has been the 
assistant director on several of my most recent films, is Professor of 
Classics at Boston University and a karate champion. It is always 
very important for the people working on a film to know that they 
are not just employees, but rather part of a team and have a vested 
interest in doing absolutely the best work possible. For example, on 
Fitzcarraldo the guy at the processing lab had read the screenplay 
and would look at the footage we were sending him just like a film- 
maker, to the point where one time I got a message from him asking 
me where various close-up shots were that he knew I needed. 


You said earlier that cinema comes from the 'country fair and the 
circus, not from art and academicism'. What did you mean by this? 

For me, cinema has the same fascination you feel during an eclipse 
and you see a close-up of the sun with protuberances shooting out 
that are thousands of times larger than our own planet down here. It 
is for this reason that I am loathe to address many of the points crit- 
ics raise about my films, because when everything is explained it gets 
boring very quickly. It is always the mysterious and those things 
which do not perfectly fit into a story - the inexplicable images or 
twists in the tale - that stick out and are memorable. Sometimes I will 
place a scene or shot into a film that might seem to have no place, yet 
that is essential to our understanding of the story being told. A good 
example is in Kaspar Hauser with the shot of Croagh Patrick in Ire- 
land that we see after the first attempt on Kaspar's life. It is the same 
thing in music, these moments of special intensity when suddenly you 
hear something that rails against the most basic rules you are accus- 
tomed to. It is the very nature of storytelling and presentation of 
images that somehow demand moments like this and that critical 
analysis cannot penetrate. Really good literature is full of these ele- 
ments, or maybe is solely these things. All the rest is mere journalism 
or maybe writing. But not real poetry. 

If you truly love film, I think the healthiest thing to do is not 
read books on the subject. I prefer the glossy film magazines with 
their big colour photos and gossip columns, or the National 
Enquirer. Such vulgarity is healthy and safe. 


1 1 Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840, Germany) is the painter whose 
work typifies the German romanticist movement of the nineteenth 
century. My own favourite is The Sea of Ice (1823). 

2 'Of course we are challenging nature itself [with this film], and it hits 
back, it just hits back, that's all. And that's grandiose about it and we 
have to accept that it is much stronger than we are. Kinski always says 
it's full of erotic elements. I don't see it so much as erotic, I see it more 
full of obscenity . . . And nature here is vile and base. 1 wouldn't see 
anything erotical here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and 
choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away. 
Of course there is a lot of misery, but it is the same misery that is all 
around us. The trees here are in misery and the birds are in misery. 


I don't think they sing, they just screech in pain. It's an unfinished coun- 
try. It's stiU prehistorical. The only thing that's lacking is the dinosaurs 
here. It's like a curse weighing on an entire landscape. And whoever 
goes too deep into this has his share of that curse, so we are cursed with 
what we do here. It's a land that God, if he exists, has created in anger. 
It's the only land where creation is unfinished yet. Taking a close look at 
what's around us, there is some sort of harmony. There is the harmony 
of overwhelming and collective murder. And we in comparison to the 
articulate vileness and baseness and obscenity of all this jungle, we in 
comparison to that enormous articulation, we only sound and look like 
badly pronounced and half-finished sentences out of a [stupid pulp fic- 
tion novel], a cheap novel. And we have to become humble in front of 
this overwhelming misery and overwhelming fornication, overwhelming 
growth and overwhelming lack of order. Even the stars up here in the 
sky look like a mess. There is no harmony in the universe. We have to 
get acquainted to this idea that there is no real harmony as we have 
conceived it. But when I say this, I say this all full of admiration for the 
jungle. It is not that I hate it. I love it, I love it very much. But I love it 
against my better judgment.' (From Les Blank's Burden of Dreams.) 

3 See John Rowlands' Hercules Segers (Scolar Press, 1979). 

4 Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811, Germany) was a playwright and 
short-story writer whose work includes the plays Amphitryon (1807) 
and Penthesilea (1807), and the stories The Marquise of O (1808) 
and Michael Kohlhaas (18TO). 

5 Friedrich Ilolderlin (1770-1843, Germany) was a key lyrical poet of 
the late eighteenth century. He wrote Hyperion (1797-99) ™d pub- 
lished two volumes of Sophocles translations before going insane at 
the age of thirty-six. 

6 Georg Biichner (1813-1837, Germany) wrote the plays Danton's 
Death (1835) and Woyzeck (published 1879), and the prose text 
Lenz (published 1839). He was Professor of Anatomy at Zurich 
University when he died of typhus at the age of twenty-four. 

7 D. W. Griffith (1875-1948, USA) was a pioneering Hollywood direc- 
tor who, in the course of his long career which included the features 
The Birth of Nation (1915) and Intolerance (1916) as well as hun- 
dreds of shorts, revolutionized early narrative cinema. See Richard 
Schickel's D. W. Griffith, An American Life (Limelight, 1996). 

8 Friedrich Wilhem Mumau (1888-1931, Germany) made several 
films (most of them lost) before directing Nosferatu - Eine Sym- 
phonic des Grauens {Nosferatu the Vampire) in 192Z, adapted from 
Bram Stoker's novel Dracula. His later films, including The Last 
Laugh (1924) and Sunrise (1927), are equally distinguished. See 
Lotte Eisner's book Mumau (published in French 1964, English 
translation 1973). 


9 Vsevolod Pudovkin (1893-1953, Russia) ranks with Eisenstein as one 
of rhe great Russian directors with his film Storm Over Asia (192.8). 
His books Film Acting and Film Technique remain fascinating reading. 

10 Luis Bufiuel (1900-83, Spain) was perhaps his country's leading 

twentieth-century film director. His first two films, Un chien andalou 
(1929) and I' Age d'or (1930), both co-written by Salvador Dali, are 
key works of early surrealist cinema. His later films include The 
Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1977) and That Obscure Object 
of Desire (1977). See Bunuel's autobiography My Last Breath 
(Vintage, 1994)- 

iiAMra Kurosawa (1910-98, Japan) remains a strong influence on 
European and American cinema. His many works include Rashomon 
(1951), The Seven Samurai (1955) and Ran (1985). See his autobiog- 
raphy Something Like an Autobiography (Vintage, 1983). 

12 Errol Morris (b. 1948, USA), director of several films including 
Gates of Heaven (1978), The Thin Blue Line (1988) and Mr Death: 
The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr. (1999). 

13 Robert Bresson (1901-98, France) wrote and directed The Trial of 
Joan of Arc in 1962. His other fdms include A Man Escaped (1956), 
Pickpocket (1959) and LArgent (1983). See also his book Notes on 
the Cinematograph er (Quartet, 1986). 

14 Herzog has described Lotte Eisner's The Haunted Screen (published 
in French 1952, English translation 1969) as the 'definitive and final 
study' of German expressionist film. 

15 Lotte Eisner (1896-1983, Germany) was a renowned historian of 
German cinema. She fled Germany in 1933, eventually assuming 
French citizenship, and was the first recipient of the Helmut Kautner 
Prize for individuals 'whose work has supported and influenced the 
development of the German film'. See Eisner's autobiography Ich 
hatte einst ein schones Vaterland (researched and ghostwritten by 
Martje Grohmann, Wunderhorn, 1984). Wim Wenders dedicated his 
1984 film Paris, Texas to Eisner. 

16 Wolfgang Staudte (1906-84, Germany) directed the first post-war 
feature (for DEFA, the production company established by the Soviet 
Union), The Murderers Are Amongst Us (1946). 

17 Helmut Kautner (1908-80, Germany) made several films banned hy 
the Nazis before and during the war. His post-war work includes The 
Last Bridge (1954) and The Devils General (1955). 

18 See Chapter 10 of Patrick McGilligan's Fritz Lang, The Nature of the 
Beast (Faber and Faber, 1997) for more about the German film com- 
munity who left the country in the wake of the Third Reich's rise to 

19 Stoker's novel was first published in 1897. 


6. Defying GroMty 

Les Blank's Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe is a wonderful short 
film. How on earth did you end up on a stage in Berkeley, Califor- 
nia, munching through your own leather boots? 

I was in Berkeley with Errol Morris, who at the time was a gradu- 
ate student.' Errol is a very talented man, a real comrade in arms. 
He is one of the people who has started so many projects but never 
finished them that when you meet him you immediately see this 
agitation of mind, everything around is aflame. He was one of the 
great hopes as a cello player until suddenly he abandoned the 
instrument. Then he said he wanted to make a film but would 
always complain to me about how difficult it was to find money 
from producers. I insisted that it was possible to make films with- 
out money, that it is faith alone and the intensity of your wishes 
and not money that result in film. 'Stop complaining about the stu- 
pidity of producers, just start with one roll of film tomorrow,' I 
told him. 'And the day I see the finished work I am going to eat my 
shoe.' And he did make the film, a wonderful work called Gates of 
Heaven about a pet cemetery. 

When I arrived in Berkeley I was wearing the same shoes as 
when I had made my vow to Errol. The problem was that when I 
cooked them, that day at the restaurant they had duck as a main 
course and there was a huge pot of duck fat sitting there. I had 
reckoned that the duck fat would come to a boiling point at about 
140 °C and I would be better off cooking the shoes in the fat than 
in boiling water. What happened was that the hot fat made the 
leather shrink and it became even tougher. There was absolutely 


no way to eat it unless I cut the leather into tiny fragments with a 
pair of poultry shears and swallowed it down with a lot of beer. I 
had a whole six-pack of beer which I drank, and I remember kind 
of staggering out of this place pretty drunk. But don't worry, 
leather is very easy to digest. And Tom Luddy,= who was up there 
on the stage with me, started distributing small pieces around the 

I had a kind of tacit agreement with Les Blank that the resulting 
film was something strictly for the family album. I had just come 
from doing pre-production in Peru for Fitzcarraldo and had the 
feeling his footage should not be screened to anyone else. Maybe 
the film is too private for me to appreciate as something for the 
public. But Les is such a good filmmaker that I forgive him any- 
thing, and today I am kind of glad he captured it on film. A 
grown-up man should eat his shoes once in a while or do certain 
things that make equal sense. Today you hear about things like the 
shoe-eating out of context and it probably seems bizarre, but it is 
not that I did it as a circus gimmick. It did all make real sense in 
the context of events. And I did not ever mean to eat my shoe in 
public. I intended to eat it in the restaurant, but I was pushed a lit- 
tle bit into it. 

You stood up there and said that eating your shoes 'should be an 
encouragement to all of you who want to make films and who are 
just scared to start'. 

Sure, and I wanted to help Errol's film, which at the time did not 
have a distributor. And anyway, there should be more shoe-eating. 

During pre-production in Peru on Fitzcarraldo you made two 
shorts in the United States, God's Angry Man and Huie's Sermon. 
What was it that attracted you to Gene Scott? 

I could never make a film about or with people whom I do not like, 
and that includes even the Californian televangelist Dr Gene Scott. 
As wild as he might be as a public figure, there was something 
heartbreaking about him, something that moved me. He could 
never be a friend of mine, but I still liked him a great deal. 
I first saw Scott some years before I made my film about him, 
God's Angry Man. Whenever I was in America I would always 


God's Angry Man 

switch on his programmes and got kind of addicted to them. What 
I found incredible was the way he would rage at his audience, 
insisting that 'God's honour is at stake every night' and that it is 
merely a case of 'Six hundred miserable dollars and you sit there 
glued to your chair.' He would even threaten the audience, saying 
things like, 'I'm going to sit here in silence for the next ten minutes, 
and if there are not $200,000 dollars pledged during that time, I'm 
going to pull the plug!' And he would just sit and stare into the 
camera for ten minutes. 

I felt he was deeply unhappy. A very intelligent man, but 
unhappy. There was certainly something of a compulsion to him, 
and when we made the film he was doing non-stop live shows, six 
to eight hours a day. He was all alone up there, talking to the 
camera, day after day and would interrupt his flow a few times by 
having his singers perform some kind of phony religious song, and 
this was only because he needed to go to the bathroom. How can 
you keep something like this up for so many years? I have not seen 
anything of the man since we made the film, but I hear he has gone 
completely bonkers and apparently on his television show now he 


sits in a glass pyramid and talks all about pyramid energies. It 
seems he has left behind much of his Christian teachings. He 
somehow appeals to the paranoia and craziness of our civilization, 
and he is very successful. I know he took issue with the way he 
came across in God's Angry Man and asked me to change the orig- 
inal title, which was Creed and Currency. 

Huie's Sermon was shot in BrookljTi, New York. I just bumped 
into Bishop Huie Rogers and asked if I could make a film about 
him. The film needs no discussion. It is a very pure work about the 
joys of life, of faith and of filmmaking. There is great joy in the 
image of Huie as he starts completely harmless and gradually whips 
himself and his flock up into the most wondrous ecstatic fervour. 

Fitzcarraldo is probably the film you're best known for. Yet most 
discussions centre not around the film itself, but the circumstances 
under which it was made. When you started work on the film in the 
Peruvian jungle, did you expect that the media buzz would be so 

What I did not expect were things like walking dovra the street in 
Munich a few months after Fitzcarraldo came out and seeing a 
man running frantically towards me. All of a sudden he leapt up in 
the air, kicked me in the stomach, picked himself up from the 
ground and yelled, 'That's what you deserve, you pig!' The prob- 
lem was there were very real things going on in the area where we 
wanted to shoot that had absolutely nothing to do with the film at 
all. There was a border war building up between Peru and 
Ecuador and all around us we felt this enormous and increasingly 
threatening military presence. At every second bend of the river 
there would be a military camp swarming with drunken soldiers. 
There were also the oil companies who were exploiting the local 
oil fields in the areas of the native Indians and who had - with 
great brutality against the local population - constructed a 
pipeline across the Indians' territory and across the Andes all the 
way to the Pacific. During construction they had brought in pros- 
titutes and there were frequent cases of rape. 

When we showed up on location in the jungle with the full per- 
mission of the local Indians, all the unsolved problems somehow 
started to revolve around our presence. The media forgot all about 


the war and the oil because we had real media appeal for them. As 
you know, Mick Jagger was scheduled to be in the film alongside 
Claudia Cardinale, with Jason Robards as the original Fitzcar- 
raldo. I certainly never wanted to become the dancing bear in the 
circus of the media, but all of a sudden there was a strange con- 
coction of Claudia and Jagger plus the mad Herzog, a bunch of 
native Indians, a border war and a military dictatorship. Ulti- 
mately, it was not difficult to rubbish the claims the press made, 
not least because a human rights group sent a commission down to 
the area and concluded that there had been not one single viola- 
tion. I had the feeling the wilder and more bizarre the legends 
were, the faster they would wither away, and this is what hap- 
pened. After about two years of being criminalized by the press, 
the whole thing just faded away. 

What was the starting point of the story of Brian Sweeney 
Fitzgerald, the man who loves Caruso so much he wants to build 
an opera house in the jungle and invite the world-famous tenor to 
the opening night? 

Two things stimulated me to make the film. The first was years 
before I even thought of the story, when I was looking for locations 
for another film, and took a drive along the Brittany coast. At 
night I reached a place named Carnac and suddenly found myself 
in a huge field of menhirs - huge prehistoric stone blocks - stuck in 
the ground, some of them nearly thirty feet high and weighing 
hundreds of tons. They go on for miles in parallel rows inland 
across the hills, there are something like 4,000 of them. I thought 
I was dreaming, I just could not believe my eyes. Then I bought a 
tourist guidebook and read that science still has no clear answer 
how such big blocks were brought overland to this spot 8,000 or 
10,000 years ago and set upright with only stone-age tools. It went 
on to claim that it must have been ancient intergalactic aliens who 
put them up. This triggered me and I told myself I was not going 
to leave until I had worked out a method how - with primitive 
tools - the stones had been erected. You have to assume that in 
those days man had only simple hemp ropes or leather thongs. I 
spent two days thinking about it until I came up with a solution. 
The method I would use is the following: I would call together 


2,000 disciplined men. Let's just assume that I would have to move 
a menhir over a distance of two kilometres. First I would dig 
trenches under the stone. Next I would push oak tree trunks into 
the trenches and move away the rest of the earth, so that the 
menhir would be resting on the tree trunks. Once this is accom- 
plished the stone could be moved on these wheels with ropes and 
levers. Give me two months and fifty men and I would be able to 
move a rock maybe thirty feet high and 200 tonnes two kilometres 
overland. The reason why J would require 2,000 men is that to get 
the menhirs into the ground, a ramp of huge proportions with a 
very slight incline is necessary. It would actually allow an elevation 
of about twelve metres and would end at an artificial mound with 
a crater hole. I would move the menhir on its 'wheels' up the ramp 
towards the mound, finally tipping it into the hole. Once it tilts 
into the crater with its pointed, light end, you basically have an 
upright menhir. All that needs to be done is to remove the earth, 
the mount and the ramp. 

Then a friend who years before had helped me raise money for 
Aguirre told me we should go back to the jungle and make another 
film. I told him that I did not want to make a film in the jungle for 
the sake of shooting there, 1 needed a solid story. He told me the 
true story of Jose Fermin Fitzcarrald, a fabulously wealthy real-life 
rubber baron at the turn of the century, a man who apparently had 
a private army of 5,000 men and a territory the size of Belgium. It 
was all very thin stuff for a film save one detail that he happened 
to mention: Fitzcarrald had once dismantled a boat, carried it 
overland from one river ro the next and reassembled it once he had 
reached this parallel tributary. Suddenly I had my story, not a story 
about rubber, but one of grand opera in the jungle with these ele- 
ments of Sis5T)hus. The real Fitzcarrald is not a very interesting 
character per se, just another ugly businessman at the turn of the 
century, while the history of the rubber era in Peru did not interest 
me in the slightest. Fitzcarraldo's love of music was my idea, 
though of course the rubber barons of the past century did build 
an opera house - the Teatro Amazonas - in Manaus.3 So the real 
historical elements of the story were for me merely a point of 
departure. In my version of events, to raise money to construct an 
opera house in the jungle, Fitzcarraldo takes a ship up a tributary 
and, with the help of a thousand natives, moves the boat over a 


mountain into a parallel river which has millions of rubber trees, 
but is inaccessible because of the rapids of the Pongo das Mortes 
further downriver. Thinking back to the menhirs of Carnac, the 
real question was: 'How do I move a huge steamboat in one piece 
across a mountain?' Though the film is set in an invented geogra- 
phy, I knew from the start that in telling this story we would have 
to pull a real boat over a real mountain. 

Even before filming started you'd been in the jungle for a couple of 
years. Why did pre-production take so long? 

In the film you see a rusty old boat which Fitzcarraldo repairs. We 
found it in Colombia, and it was so beyond repair and had such 
huge holes in its hull that we had to tug it to Iquitos - where we 
shot the scenes of Molly's brothel at the start of the film - with 600 
empty oil drums stuffed into its belly. This ship served as a model 
for two more identical boats we had to build. While one was being 
pulled up the mountain, we could be shooting with the other one 
in the rapids. For a long while Twentieth Century Fox were inter- 
ested in producing the film, but they proposed we use a model boat 
and a model mountain, and that was out of the question for me. 
During these discussions I had already started to build the ships, 
and it was a very slow procedure since Iquitos does not have a real 
dock where we could construct them. We also had to build a camp 
for about a thousand extras and the crew, which took time. Thus 
pre-production took over three years. Of course, I was doing other 
things at the same time, but spent a lot of time either in the jungle 
or travelling up to America or to Europe to pick up things that 
were needed, or to find more money. 

And then, once shooting finally started and we had shot about 
40 per cent of the film, Robards became very ill and had to return 
to the United States, and his doctor forbade him to return. In the 
meantime Jagger - who played Fitzcarraldo's retarded actor side- 
kick - had to honour his commitment to a Rolling Stones concert 
tour and so I decided to write his character completely out of the 
film because the man was irreplaceable. I liked him so much as a 
performer that any replacement would have been an embarrass- 
ment. He is a great actor, something I feel that nobody had yet 
seen. And I liked his attitude very much. In Iquitos he had a car we 


rented for him, and when we had trouble getting people to various 
places he would chauffeur them for us. I liked that he knew the 
value of real work; he is an absolute professional in the best sense 
of the word. Losing Mick was, I think, the biggest loss I have ever 
experienced as a film director. 

Is it true that once Robards had gone you thought about playing 
the role ofFitzcarraldo yourself? 

I would have played the part of Fitzcarraldo only as a last resort, 
and would have been a good Fitzcarraldo simply because what the 
character has to do in the film was exactly what I had to do as the 
film's director, and I would not have been undignified in the role. 
Of course, I would never have been as good as BCinski, and I thank 
God on my knees that Kinski did it. I met him in a hotel in New 
York and he was very supportive. I was devastated by everything 
that had been going on down in Peru, and he opened a bottle of 
champagne saying, 'I knew it, Werner! i knew I would be Fitzcar- 
raldo! You are not going to play the part because I am much better 
than you.' Of course, he was right. 'When is the plane leaving for 
Peru?' he asked. I truly liked him for his professionalism, even 
though once he arrived at the site where the boat was to be pulled 
over the mountain and saw how steep the terrain was, his heart 
sank at once. He was convinced it could not be done and later 
became the strongest negative force on the film. 

In an interview from the time you said that if you were to make a 
film like Fitzcarraldo again 'there would be only ashes left of me'. 

People tried to protect me from what they saw as my madness and 
folly, and at various times I was repeatedly asked, 'Why don't you 
just rewrite the screenplay and cut out the whole thing of pulling 
the ship over the mountain?' 

There was a lot to deal with. One time a crew member had a 
strange fit and burnt down my house, a beautiful thatched hut on 
stilts built by the Indians. About ten days' voyage further up Rio 
Camisea from where we were working lived the Amehuacas, a 
nomadic tribal group who had repelled all attempts by missionar- 
ies and the military to contact them. That season was the driest in 
recorded history, and as the river virtually dried out this group 




moved downriver, further than ever before, in search of turtle eggs. 
They attacked three locals who were extras in the film and who 
were fishing in our camp, and shot a gigantic arrow right through 
the throat of one of the men, something you can see in Burden of 
Dreams. His wife was hit by three arrows in her abdomen which 
left her in critical condition. It was too risky to transport them 
anjrwhere, and so we performed eight hours of emergency surgery 
on a kitchen table. I assisted by illuminating her abdominal cavity 
with a torchlight, and with my other hand sprayed with repellent 
the clouds of mosquitoes that swarmed around the blood. The 
attack had occurred about a day's voyage upriver, and it came 
silently and in total darkness. Nearly fifty of our best native extras 
left on a retaliatory raid but luckily never encountered any of the 

Naturally there were also many problems with getting the boat 
up the mountain, and every spare part had to be shipped in from 
Miami. Then, once we had actually got the boat to the top, there 
was no water on the other side and we had to leave it there for six 
months because there were only two feet of water instead of fifty 
feet. I engaged a family with five children and a couple of pigs to 
live inside it until we got back and finally spent a couple of weeks 
getting the few shots of the film we needed, those of the ship mov- 
ing down the other side of the mountain. 

And what was it like filming in Iquitos? 

Though we constructed an infrastructure there, filming was still 
very difficult. Phoning long distance was practically impossible, 
power cuts would occur twice a day, the dirt road from town to 
our offices was basically a swamp and taxi drivers would refuse to 
make the journey. I may sound pathetic, but if I would have had 
to climb down to Hell itself and wrestle a film out of the claws of 
the devil, I would have done so. It was just not possible for me to 
allow myself private feelings of doubt whilst in the middle of mak- 
ing Fitzcarraldo. When I returned to Germany one time to try and 
hold all the investors in the film together they asked me, 'How can 
you continue? Do you have the strength and the will and the 
enthusiasm?' And I said, 'How can you ask this question? If I 
abandon this project I will be a man without dreams and I do not 


want to live like that, i live my life or I end my life with this 
project.' Had I allowed myself the privilege of hesitating for a 
single minute, or had I panicked for even a split second, the whole 
project would have come tumbling down around me immediately. 
But you know, the final film was pretty much as I had always 
hoped it would be, with the exception of the Mick Jagger character. 
Once the film was finished, Claudia Cardinale said to me, 'Werner, 
when you came to Rome four years ago, you explained your idea to 
me and all the difficulties we would have to overcome. Now I see 
the film and it is exactly as you first described it.' 

I can just see the Hollywood version of Fitzcarraldo with a minia- 
ture plastic boat being filmed on a studio sound stage. Were you 
after realism? 

No, I did not undergo those exhausting things for the sake of real- 
ism. When the boat is crashing through the rapids it jerks the 
gramophone so that suddenly we hear opera music playing, and 
all the realistic noises fade away to reveal Caruso singing. And at 
the end of the film, once the boat starts to move, there are fewer 
and fewer people in shot. It is almost as if the boat were gliding by 
its own force over the top. Had we shown anyone it would have 
been a realistic event, an event of human labour. As it is, the whole 
thing has been transformed into an operatic event of fever dreams 
and pure imagination, a highly stylized and grandiose scene of 
jungle fantasies. 

Since the Hollywood 'plastic' solution had been ruled out, we 
ended up with a ship weighing 340 tons that had to be heaved in 
one piece for well over a mile over a very steep mountain. At the 
start the gradient was 60 per cent and we levelled it down to 40 per 
cent, but that is still very steep. And this was in the primeval for- 
est, 1,200 kilometres away from the next real town, Iquitos. We 
did it all on a budget of only $6 million, much of which had not 
even been secured by the time shooting began. In the beginning I 
invested my own money because I knew that no one would be pre- 
pared to back a project like this. I started construction of the two 
ships and the camps for the crew and the actors, though obviously 
my money would not be enough to pay for ever}^hing. But I felt 
confident that the only way to carry through a project on this scale 


was just to start moving the train out of the station so that every- 
one could get an idea of its scale, its speed and its direction. Once 
this was accomplished, I knew there would be people who would 
want to jump on board. 

Pulling a boat of that size over a mountain would inevitably 
create situations that nobody had foreseen and so would bring life 
to the film. For example, I wish we had shot in Dolby stereo 
because the sound of this boat was so stunning and so amazing no 
sound engineer could ever have invented what we heard on loca- 
tion. There is a mysterious truth in what we did, and I wanted the 
audience in a position where they could trust their own eyes. I 
want to take cinema audiences back to the earliest days, like when 
the Lumiere brothers screened their film of a train pulling into a 
station. Reports say that the audience fled in panic because they 
believed the train would run them over. I cannot confirm this, 
maybe it is a legend, but I do very much like this story. I person- 
ally have seen people in a small village in Mexico who kept talk- 
ing back to the bad guy in a scene in an open-air cinema. One of 
them even pulled a gun and opened fire at the screen. 
I think science-fiction films are wonderful because they are pure 
imagination and that is what cinema is all about. But on the other 
hand, all of these films hint that what you see is artificially made in 
a studio with digital effects. This is the issue of truthfulness in 
today's cinema. It is not about realism or naturalism. I am speaking 
of something different. Nowadays even six-year-olds know when 
something is a special effect and even how the shot is done. I 
remember when the film was shown in Germany there was shouting 
from the audiences at the moment when the boat was hoisted up on 
to the mountain. Little by little they realized that this was no trick. 

What about the logistics of pulling the boat over the mountain. 
Were you certain from the start that it would work? 

Of course, there was a certain risk in doing what we did with the 
boat, and on Fitzcarraldo one of the strongest accusations against 
me was that I risked people's lives during production. Absolute 
rubbish. The Brazilian engineer who had planned the logistics of 
moving the boat over the mountain ended up leaving the set of the 
film because he doubted, once in the jungle, he could actually do it. 


As a pretext he pointed out that there was a real danger that the 
dead post which we had estabhshed to take the weight of the boat 
would be pulled out of the ground if we went ahead with our plans. 
When he left I stopped production for twelve days with the realiza- 
tion we would have to perform our task without the assistance of a 
specialist engineer. So we dug a much more stable hole for the dead 
post -I think it was three times deeper - and sunk a huge tree trunk 
about thirty feet into the ground, letting it stick out above ground 
only two feet. It is not difficult to calculate the forces of physical 
objects like the boat against the post, and I think ten times the 
weight of the boat could have been sustained by this thing. 
We also brought in a heavier and more substantial pulley sys- 
tem. What is so stunning about the kinds of cables we were using 
is that when they are close to breaking point, they sound unhealthy 
and sick. From there, the only thing to do is to release the tension 
and get out of the way, because when a steel cable breaks under 
such tension it means it is like a gigantic whip, glowing red hot 
inside from the pressure. With the new dead post there was now a 
margin of safety that was so massive that there would not be any 
problems. But even so, I would never allow anyone to get close to 
the ship - particularly behind it - when it was being pulled up the 
mountain. The native Indians demanded that if they had to be 
close to the ship for a shot, the director had to be there as well, 
which I always felt was a very fair request and acceded to immedi- 
ately. No one was ever at risk while the ship was pulled over the 
mountain. No one means no actor, no technician, no extra. The 
simple reason for this was that the space at the rear of the ship was 
sealed off from the rest of the set. If the cables holding the ship had 
snapped, it would have slid down the mountain without harming 

We had about 700 Indians who provided much of the pulling 
force by moving the winches. Theoretically speaking, I could have 
pulled the boat over the mountain with my little finger given the 
fact that we had a pulley system with a 10,000-fold transmission. 
It would have taken very little strength, though I would have had to 
pull the rope about five miles to move the boat five inches. I think it 
was Archimedes who said that you can hoist the whole Earth out of 
its orbit if you have a pivotal point and a lever sticking far enough 
out into the universe. So there are very primitive physical laws 


behind what we did on that mountain. The real Fitzcarraldo 
moved a far lighter boat from one river system to the next, but he 
disassembled the boat into little pieces and got some engineers to 
reassemble it later on. But for what we did there was no precedent 
in technical history, and no book of instructions we could refer to. 
And you know, probably no one will ever need to do again what 
we did. I am a Conquistador of the Useless. The obvious problem 
was the steep inclination - even though we had flattened it out a 
little bit - and also that because of the torrential rains there were 
landslides which meant the boat kept on sinking into the mud. 

When I watched Wings of Hope with an audience recently, one of 
the questions was about 'how far Herzog is willing to go?', citing 
the fact that in searching for the crashed plane you cut down a 
small swath of trees in the jungle to land your helicopter. The 
portrayal of you as megalomaniacal filmmaker who will stop at 
nothing is a persona that was probably established during the 
making o/Fitzcarraldo. 

There is no sense of proportion in this kind of criticism. You can 
see in the shots from Wings of Hope that there are hundreds of 
miles of thick jungle in all direction; it is an ocean of trees. To land 
that helicopter we cut five trees and some undergrowth, that is all. 
It was a necessity for the film because otherwise it was a very diffi- 
cult trek through the jungle for several days. You cannot complain 
about things like cutting down a tiny swath of trees to land a heli- 
copter. Five trees out of millions and millions of trees. It is like 
being on a beach and taking a handful of sand home with you. 
When I made My Best Fiend, I went back to the locations we used 
for Fitzcarraldo where we cut the hundred foot wide path over the 
mountain from one river to the other and there is no trace of us 
ever having been there. If you did not know where we shot the film, 
you would never recognize it because twenty years later the side of 
the mountain looks just as it did before we arrived. There is not one 
nail, not one scrap of wire left. Absolutely nothing. 
The determination with which I work, and my determination to 
see things through, has nothing to do with so-called megalomania. 
Some people look at a film like The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver 
Steiner and accuse me of self-promotion because I appear in the 


film. But I was actually forced to make an appearance. The Ger- 
man television network for whom I produced the film had a series 
called Grenzstationen [Border Stations] which had screened some 
films that were remarkably good. I had to accept that any film I 
made for the series would have to conform to the network's rules, 
one of which was that the filmmaker had to appear in the film as 
the chronicler of events. It is as simple as that, and because ski- 
jumping is so close to my heart, I did not find it problematic to film 
myself as the commentator of events. Regardless, this accusation 
of megalomania is a good one. Another one floating around was 
that I was into 'Teutonic mythomania'. So I suppose I got off quite 
lightly with plain old megalomania. 

People still believe that Indians were killed during the pulling of 
the boat up the mountain. 

There is a shot in Fitzcarraldo where the boat finally starts to edge 
up the side of the mountain a few feet before slipping back again, 
crushing a couple of Indians. I am proud that the scene is so well 
directed it was claimed these Indians really had died and I had 
the audacity to actually film their bodies, deep in the mud under- 
neath the boat. Thankfully Les Blank got that shot he used in 
Burden of Dreams - the film he made on the set of Fitzcarraldo - 
where we see the Indians emerging from underneath the boat, 
laughing, and then washing themselves in the river. I suppose that 
many of these wild accusations were triggered by shots that looked 
so convincing. 

There were some accidents that occurred during shooting, how- 
ever. I knew that many of the Indians could not swim - they had 
come from the mountainous areas - and I would sometimes see 
some of them taking one of the many canoes we had into the middle 
of the river. I told them not to do this as I did not want anything to 
happen to them, and eventually I decided to move the canoes up to 
higher ground and even chain them together. But one day I was 
coming round a bend of the river on a speed boat and saw a great 
tumult on the river bank. I immediately knew something had hap- 
pened and heard from shouts that a boat had capsized just 
moments before. I dived down and tried to find these two young 
men who somehow had managed to steal a canoe. Though one 


reached the shore, the other drowned, and we never found the 
body. We also had two plane crashes. Everyone survived, but some 
people sustained very serious injuries. At our field hospital we 
were also able to treat many locals who had nothing to do with the 
film and who might otherwise have been very ill, yet an elderly 
woman did die of anaemia. Simply, those injuries that occurred on 
the set of Fitzcarraldo were not directly related to the production. 

Were there no other less serious incidents directly related to the 

Naturally there are some things that i have to take responsibility 
for. During the filming of the scene of the boat moving through the 
rapids, the assistant cameraman Rainer Klausmann was sitting 
with a camera on a rock in the river covered with moss and sur- 
rounded by quite turbulent water. It had not been easy to get to 
this spot, let alone to stabilize a camera there. We did the shots and 
the boat smashed against the rocks so badly that the keel was com- 
pletely twisted around itself. Just past the rapids it ran aground on 
a sandbank, and we were frantically trjdng to free it because the 
dry season was imminent and we knew that the water level would 
sink even further, preventing any kind of rescue of the ship. So we 
all had a lot on our minds, and eventually made it back to camp 
for the night. Next morning at breakfast I look around and cannot 
see Klausmann. And all of a sudden I ask if anyone had seen him 
last night, and no one had. We had forgotten him on that rock the 
day before. I took a boat and went over to the rapids as fast as I 
could, and saw him just sitting there, hanging on to this rock. He 
was very angry, and rightfully so. Actually, before that, Klausmann 
had had bad luck. Near Iquitos there was a dead branch of the 
river, the kind of place where normally you would find piranhas, 
but because all the townsfolk and children would go there to 
swim, we did too. One afternoon we are in the water and all of a 
sudden I hear a scream and see Klausmann scrambling to shore. A 
piranha had bitten off the top joint of one of his toes. He could 
walk only on crutches for the next six weeks. 

Weren't most of the claims about your treatment of the locals 
made during the extended period of pre-production? 


That is correct. Months before we had even brought the cameras 
down into the jungle, the press tried to hnk me to the mihtary 
regime in some way and make me out to be a major force in the 
exploitation of local Indians. In fact, the soldiers were constantly 
arresting us because for a time I had no official permits to move the 
ships along the river Maranon. And the reason I did not have the 
paperwork the military required was that I felt it was better to ask 
the Indians who actually lived on the river for permission rather 
than go to the government in Lima. When we got to Wawaim, 
which was in the vicinity where we wanted to pull the ship over the 
mountain, we talked at length to local inhabitants, who were 
happy to help, and I drafted a detailed contract about what needed 
to be done and how much each person would be paid for this basic 
exchange of services. They actually earned about twice as much as 
working for a lumber company. 

At that time there was a real power struggle going on within the 
larger communities of Indians in the general area, which meant 
there was real opposition to us shooting the film where we had orig- 
inally planned, even though this opposition came from another 
completely separate community some distance away. There had 
been a kind of unofficial tribal council of Aguarunas [the Consejo 
Aguaruna y Huambisa] that insisted it represented all the commu- 
nities in the area, even though many Indians where we had estab- 
lished our camp had no idea the council even existed. There was 
never one voice for the Aguarunas, despite what this group said, 
and the council was merely tr3dng to make a name for itself by 
blaming us for having built the oil pipeline and generally being 
responsible for the military presence. They said we were going to 
cut a canal between the two river systems which would devastate 
several of the local communities. They also said we wanted to do 
real harm to the local population, things like rape their women and 
use their bodies for grease. It did not help that almost from the start 
there were rumours from the press that we were smuggling arms 
and that while we were shooting we had destroyed the Indians' 
crops. But we were still in the early stages of pre-production and it 
was many months before a single frame of film was even shot. 

Weren't there also attacks from outsiders who came down to the 
area with the specific intention of inciting the Indians against you? 


A political propagandist arrived from France and started showing 
the local Indians photos of Auschwitz victims, piles of skeletons 
and corpses. He was one of several activists from other countries 
who were out there, the kind of people who make up the Diaspora 
of Shattered Illusions. Most of them were doctrinaire zealots of the 
failed 1968 revolution who wanted to fulfil their illusions some- 
where new. One of the Indian leaders showed me the material given 
to them and explained that the French guy had tried to convince the 
Indians that this is how the Germans treat everyone. 
After several months of pre-production the military build-up on 
the border had become very scary. One time we passed by one of 
the army's encampments on the shore of the river and they fired a 
shot over our heads. We rowed to shore and were held for a cou- 
ple of hours. This was tJie first time I had real doubts about 
whether we should stay in this area, and finally I made the decision 
to abandon the camp we had built and find another location for 
the film. We looked at aerial shots and spoke to pilots and geog- 
raphers, and concluded that there were only two places in the 
whole of Peru where the film could be shot. The first one was the 
site we had just evacuated; the second was 1,500 kilometres to the 
south, in the middle of the jungle. Actually, I had not yet found the 
second location before I moved out of the first camp, but could see 
very clearly that I was the axis of a wheel that was spinning out of 
control and that we definitely did not belong there. The press 
jumped on the fact that we were moving deeper into the jungle, 
away from Iquitos, and they all wondered why I could not just 
shoot the whole thing outside of the town, which would have made 
things easier for everyone. Well, naturally it would have made 
things easier, but I had extreme limitations when it came to suit- 
able locations for the film. I needed two rivers that ran parallel, 
that almost touched each other, and that had in between them a 
mountain that was not too big, but not too small either. Most of 
the tributaries of the Amazon are something like twenty kilometres 
apart with 2,500 metre-high mountains in between, and for a 
thousand miles in the vicinity of Iquitos there is no elevation more 
than ten feet. 

Only a few people remained in the first camp, and I main- 
tained the medical outpost there for the local people. I felt that as 
long as I could pay for a doctor, one should remain there, and I 


secretly hoped by doing so things would fall into place. It was 
only after the camp was almost entirely evacuated that some 
Aguarunas of the tribal council who did not live in the area set 
the huts on fire. They brought some press photographers along 
with them. Around that time, I do not recall whether before or 
after, the border war between Peru and Ecuador broke out in the 
immediate vicinity. 

There was even a tribunal in Germany established to try you in 
absentia for your crimes. Who were these people? 

A group of doctrinaire left-wing ideologues, another sad leftover 
of 1968, accused me of torturing and imprisoning native Indians, 
depriving them of their culture, and so on. Their accusations were 
so bizarre that even some of the press who normally loved this 
kind of stuff did not listen to what was being said. In fact it was 
very obvious that we had not invaded a tribe of untouched natives. 
The Aguarunas were politically the best organized group in Peru. 
They communicated via short-wave radio, loved kung fu videos, 
and most of the men had served in the army. In Burden of 
Dreams you can see some of the Indians wearing John Travolta 
T-shirts, and it was claimed that I had sent a load of these T-shirts 
into the Amazon. 

The only serious allegation lingering was that I had four Indians 
arrested by the military. I went to the town of Santa Maria de 
Nieva to uncover the facts for myself, and it turned out all four 
men actually existed but had never had the remotest contact with 
the production of the film. One of them had actually been in jail 
for about a week, but only because he had unpaid bills in every bar 
in town. Upon my request, Amnesty International looked into the 
reports of human rights abuses and I think they unofficially spread 
word that I was not causing any problems. Of course, the media 
took no notice as this was not a good story for them. Typical of the 
climate was a big report in Der Stern magazine. A photographer 
was sent to our jungle set where he took at least a thousand pic- 
tures, none of which were published. Instead the magazine ran 
photos from their archives of naked Amazon Indians spearing fish, 
hinting we had intruded into a sanctuary of 'uncontaminated' 


How did Les Blank come to shoot Burden of Dreams? You said that 
if it wasn't for the fact that twenty years ago you gave him several 
discarded scenes from the original version of the film with Robards 
and Jagger, then you would never have been able to cut them into 
your film about Kinski, My Best Fiend, all those years later. 

That is correct, I did not keep any of the footage of Robards and 
Jagger, and the only scenes that still exist are those from Les's film. I 
did not invite Les Blank to the jungle, but he was very eager to come 
down and make a film down there. I was at first quite reluctant to 
have a camera around because there is something distasteful about 
making films about films. When you work, like when you cook a 
meal at home, and there is someone staring at your hands, watching 
what you are doing all the time, suddenly you are not a good cook 
any longer. I have the feeling that we function differently when being 
observed. But Les turned out to be a good presence. He is very unob- 
trusive and he certainly does have a good eye. But something to 
remember is that what he recorded for his film was shot in only five 
weeks, while Fitzcarraldo took four years to make. So he captured 
only a tiny fraction of what went on during the making of the film. 
What I always liked about Les was that he was not some sort of 
a court jester who would adulate the production. Most of the time 
he would hang around the camp where the natives would do their 
cooking. He would cook with them, he would shoot trails of ants, 
he was as much interested in what was going on with the ants as 
he was with the film itself. I always liked that attitude. Though in 
some sequences the film might not project a particularly 
favourable image of me, I do like Burden of Dreams, though it did 
cause some problems for me. For example, at one point in the 
film I talk of how people have lost their lives, but Les did not 
include my explanation of the circumstances in his film. He just 
cut it out, and so all of a sudden it sounds as if I had risked lives 
for the sake of a film. This stench followed me for a whole decade. 

In Burden of Dreams there are shots of you and Kinski on the boat 
as it moves through the rapids. Was it your idea to take a camera 

crew out there? 

Yes, but I certainly never forced anyone to come with me; they all 
came on board of their own volition. It was just like when we did 


La Soufriere: I made sure that everyone made up their own mind. 
Kinski was immediately eager to do it. He always had a good 
knowledge of what would work on the screen and knew this was a 
moment he should be involved with. Actually, he pushed me 
because I had some hesitation. What happened was that before we 
could even set up the cameras, the fourteen steel hawsers broke 
simultaneously under the enormous thrust of the water and the 
boat took off through the rapids with nobody to steer it, though 
there were some people on board: the cook and his pregnant wife. 
After this incident we set up three cameras and filmed the boat 
striking against the rock wall river banks. The anchor pierced the 
hull and the keel twisted up like a sardine-can lid around its key, 
but the boat was so solidly built, with its steel lining and protective 
air-chambers, that it did not sink. Once that was done, I had the 
feeling it would be good for the film if we had a scene with Fitz- 
carraldo waking up realizing that the boat is careering through the 
rapids. I wanted to do it for real so asked who wanted to come 
along. I knew there was a danger, and everyone was left in no 
doubt that getting on the boat to film the sequence was most defi- 
nitely a risk that could not be fully calculated. 

With great effort - it took about ten days - we managed to 
winch the second boat through the rapids against the current and 
we got on board. There were seven people on board with three 
cameras. We tied Jorge Vignati and his camera with two belts to 
the back wail of the helm, and when we hit a rock he was jerked so 
hard that he broke a couple of ribs. And Beat Presser, who was not 
very attentive, hit his head on the camera which was cemented to 
the deck and suffered a concussion. And you can see what hap- 
pened to Thomas Mauch in Burden of Dreams; he flew through 
the air with the heavy camera in his hand and on impact split his 
hand apart between his fingers. Only two days previously all of 
our anesthetic had been used during emergency surgery on the two 
Indians hit by arrows. As we had many Peruvian lumbermen and 
oarsmen, we had been advised by a local missionary to have two 
prostitutes stationed in our camp, otherwise the men would chase 
after the women in the next settlement. As we fixed up his hand 
without anesthetic, one of these women consoled Mauch in his 
agony by burying his face between her breasts and telling him how 
much she loved him. 


We all got off the boat once it had passed through the rapids, 
almost immediately after which it dug itself into a gravel bank. We 
tried to pry it loose, but in the end had to face the fact that the boat 
could not be moved until the rainy season, which was months 
away, because of the low water level. Since we needed it for various 
shots on the river, especially for the big crowd scenes in Iquitos, 
and because the other boat was being pulled up the mountain, it 
was clear we would have to come back later in the year to finish 
filming. We were prepared for something like this to happen 
because it was not all that unlikely the ship would sink in the 
rapids. The speed of the water was more than sixty kilometres per 
hour and there were large whirlpools all over the place. If it had 
sunk, we would have had a couple of minutes of material we could 
use from the four cameras. I would have just edited out the shots 
where the ship goes down and replaced them with shots of the sec- 
ond ship. No way would we have ever sent the boat through the 
rapids without having a feasible back-up plan and a second ship. 

One thing that always seemed a little unclear in the film to me is 
exactly why the Indians agree to help Fitzcarraldo in the way they 

The Indians are just as obsessed as Fitzcarraldo is. While his dream 
is to build an opera house, they want to rid themselves of the evil 
spirits that inhabit the rapids, which is why they release the ship 
into the rapids. They are on a mythic mission, one that Fitzcarraldo 
himself never quite understands. We spectators are similarly left in 
the dark about their true motivation and never really understand 
why they are toiling, why they go into all this trouble to tow the 
ship over the mountain. Only when they cut it loose and it hurtles 
through the rapids do we truly understand. By sacrificing the ship, 
they want to calm the evil spirits who dwell in the rapids. So it is 
only the Indians who make their dream come true. They win and 
Fitzcarraldo loses, though ultimately he converts this defeat into a 
triumph through the power of his imagination and creative spirit. 
At the end of the film we know that Fitzcarraldo has bankrupted 
himself, yet that he will be up to more mischief before long. Who 
knows, a week later he might decide to finally finish his trans- 
Amazon railway. This is a guy who will always stand his ground. 


And like him, we have all got to try to make our own dreams come 
true, even if it is against all odds. An image like the ship moving 
across a mountain seems to give us all courage for our own 
dreams. This is a film that challenges the most basic laws of nature. 
Boats just are not meant to fly over mountains. Fitzcarraldo's story- 
is the victory of the weightlessness of dreams over the heaviness of 
reality. It defies gravity head on, and by the film's end I hope that 
the audience feels utterly elated and even lighter than when they 
went in. One reason I used opera music is the strange effect it cre- 
ates in translating the reality of a boat moving over a mountain 
into dreams. Everyone always compares the film to Aguirre 
because they both have Peru, jungle rivers and Kinski. But as I 
explained earlier, it is actually much more like The Great Ecstasy 
of Woodcarver Steiner because both men are dreamers who want 
to defy the laws of gravity. 

Do you know what the lasting effect of your work with the Indi- 
ans was? 

Our presence in that part of the jungle was ephemeral, yet to some 
degree helpful because so much attention was focused on the prob- 
lems of native Indians in the Peruvian rain forests. When we shot 
the film we were conscious that we should do more for the Indians 
than merely pay them for their services. The younger men dreamt 
of buying Honda motorcycles as they had loved them ever since 
their army service, even though there were no roads in the jungle. 
What had a longer-lasting effect was that we built a boat so they 
could transport their crops to the next market. Their own dug-out 
canoes were too small. Normally, travelling merchants would buy 
things from them for very low prices and make huge profits further 
downriver. It was also clear that lumber and oil companies were 
quite a threat, and the Indians wanted us to assist them to get land 
rights for their territory, so we sent in a land surveyor to chart their 
land. I even took two Indians to see the President of the Republic, 
Belaunde, who promised to co-operate. The two delegates wanted 
to bring proof home that they had been in Lima and had seen the 
ocean. I remember vividly how they waded with their blue jeans 
into the surf and filled two bottles with sea water which they took 
back to the jungle. We assisted them for a couple of years so they 


would get legal title to their land. By the time I was back there a 
feW years ago to shoot My Best Fiend, they had succeeded in 
obtaining their land title, while on the other side of the river - land 
that was not part of the Indians' territory - there is a camp and an 
airfield that belongs to the oil companies. Actually it seems to be 
one of the largest deposits of gas in the world. But to this day there 
is absolutely no drilling on the land of the Indians. They really do 
have control over it, and so I do feel that we assisted them in a 
small way, even though their moral and historical right to the ter- 
ritory was always absolutely unquestionable. 

You said earlier that the best way to fight a rumour is with an even 
wilder rumour. Is that how you handled the attacks from the 

At one point the entire Italian press exploded with the story that 
Claudia Cardinale had been run over by a truck and was critically 
injured. A hysterical journalist from Italy somehow reached me on 
the phone in Iquitos - it sometimes took forty-eight hours to place 
a phone call down there - and I remember this crazed voice asking 
me about her. I calmly told him that I had just come back from a 
restaurant in Iquitos with her only a few minutes previously, and 
that she was quite OK. But it did not stop, it just got worse, and 
we started to hear that reports of her injuries were spreading all 
over the world. Two days later this journalist reached me from 
Rome yet again and I had a flash of inspiration. I said to him, 'Sir, 
please do not repeat what you have written so far. It is actually 
much more serious than that. Not only was Claudia Cardinale 
badly injured when she was hit by the truck, the truck driver was 
a barefoot drunkard who raped his unconscious victim.' There 
was a minute of silence, and then he hung up. From that moment 
on there was never a line about her and this truck. 

You said that the rumours followed you for a decade. Was this a 
real problem for you? 

The rumours never concerned me, either back then or later on. 
There is something about time, how it sorts things out and allo- 
cates the right significance to things. Not always, but usually. 


Hopefully this book will do that. 

No, let's not do this book for that purpose. I can argue against all 
the accusations best, perhaps, with the film itself. There is a 
moment when Fitzcarraldo tells the story of a Frenchman who was 
the first white man to see the Niagara falls, at a time when Amer- 
ica was hardly settled. Upon relating what he had seen, the man 
was called a liar. 'What is your proof?' he was asked. 'My proof is 
that I saw it!' was his answer. I - and many others - were eyewit- 
nesses to what happened during the making of Fitzcarraldo, and 
what is remarkable is that in every story the media came up with, 
I was able to get acquainted with a Werner Herzog who had very 
little to do with me. So be it. I feel safe from the world knowing 
that in between myself and the rumours is a layer of false Herzogs 
who will protect me. In fact, let's get more of these doppelgdngers, 
these stooges, out there. I offer a good wage. 

Your next film also caused you some trouble. How did you get 
involved with Ballad of the Little Soldier, probably your most 
political work? It's about the struggle fought by the Nicaraguan 
Miskito Indians, allies of the Sandinistas in the revolution against 
Somoza, in their own rebellion against the Sandinistas.4 

May I correct you: it is about children who are fighting in a war, 
not a film about the Sandinistas or Somoza. As it was filmed in 
Nicaragua, the dogmatic left - for whom the Sandinistas at that 
time were still the sacred cow - could not accept that I was not 
working alongside the CIA on the project. But the film is not 
'political'. It was made because a friend of mine, Denis Reichle, 
had started to make a film about child soldiers and got stuck with 
the project and asked me to help. 

Who is Reichle? 

He is a photographer and writer who for decades travelled exten- 
sively to inaccessible places to cover oppressed minorities from the 
inside. He is an equally daring and prudent man who has survived 
civil wars, riots and even five months' captivity by the Khmer 
Rouge in Cambodia. As an orphan of fourteen, he was drafted into 
Volkssturm,5 the battalions made up of children and older men 


that Hitler used in the defence of Berhn in the final months of the 
war, an experience Reichle was lucky to survive. Because he was 
originally from Alsace, he became a French citizen after the war 
and with his military experience was sent off to Indochina, where 
he survived Dien Bien Phu. 

Denis is the most fearless person I know. He arrived in East 
Timor as the mass murder of hundreds of thousands started, just 
after the Portuguese had left their former colony. Nobody dared to 
land on shore, so he swam the last kilometre from a small fishing 
boat holding his camera above his head. He has unnerving knowl- 
edge and finely tuned instincts about danger because he has been in 
it so much. One time he was driving a jeep in Angola, a country 
absolutely saturated with landmines. Travelling down a country 
road he saw some boys sitting under the shadow of a huge tree just 
outside of town. As he advanced towards them, all of a sudden he 
spotted them plugging their ears with their fingers. Denis slams on 
the breaks immediately and stops about six feet away from a land- 
mine. He knew the boys wanted to watch him blow up. He is the 
most methodical man I know, which is why he has lived so long. 

What is the background to the film? 

Originally the Miskitos had fought against Somoza as allies of the 
Sandinistas, and in their social structure they traditionally lived a 
primitive form of socialism. The Sandinistas wanted to help the 
Indians take a step forward towards 'real' scientific socialism, and 
in an attempt to reorganize the village communes a whole strip of 
Miskito land on the Honduran border was categorically depopu- 
lated and sixty-five towns and villages razed to the ground. The 
excuse the Sandinistas gave was they wanted to transform the 
region into a military zone of protection against the Contra rebels, 
and inevitably, after these great abuses had been committed 
against them, the Indians broke from the Sandinistas.^ 
For some people, showing nine-year-old kids fighting against the 
Sandinistas meant I was clearly an American imperialist. No one 
would even contemplate that the Sandinistas could violate the 
essential rights of native Indians, which even the Sandinistas 
themselves admitted later on. Ballad of the Little Soldier actually 
turned into a film that really had some practical results because 


Ballad of the Little Soldier 

afterwards I was invited by the Sandinistas to screen the film in 
Nicaragua, and a couple of years later practical politics really did 
change to a certain degree. But the film does not mince its words 
and when it was released I was immediately labelled as being in the 
pay of the CIA. 

The intellectuals were simply unable to understand that politi- 
cally dogmatic cinema is not something I practise, and they did 
not bother to look at what the film is really about; rather, they 
superimposed their own political views on to Ballad of the Little 
Soldier. At the time it was known to everyone that the United 
States was actively working against the socialist regimes of Central 
America, but Ballad of the Little Soldier is still in no way any kind 
of direct comment on American foreign policy or anything like 
that. For me the human element to the story is the key to the film. 
During the making of the film, many things became clear to me; 
for example, when I talked to a young girl who left the village early 
in the morning with a rifle and returned in triumph because she 
had traded it for a chicken. This war was about a traditional cul- 
ture being ripped apart by the introduction of modern instruments 
of killing, and to talk about it in political or military terms is not 


useful. I wanted to concentrate on the child soldiers, and as such 
could actually have filmed in any number of other countries, like 
Liberia or Cambodia. It does not matter what political content 
there is when you have a nine-year-old fighting in a war. Child 
soldiers are such a tragedy that you do not need every single detail 
of the conflict. I think at the time about twenty per cent of the 
Miskito army was less than thirteen, and some were as young as 
nine. What was most interesting about the Miskito children was 
that they were all volunteers, and a very personal and traumatizing 
experience had forced every one of them to take up arms. I talked 
to a young boy in a commando unit who was in a state of shock 
and who could barely speak. His two-year-old brother, six-year-old 
brother and his father had all been killed and his mother cut in 
pieces before his eyes. He had not yet finished his training, but he 
wanted to go out the next day and kill. In fact, many of the children 
you see in the film were dead by the time the film was released. 

Your next film, The Dark Glow of the Mountains, contains one of 
my favourite scenes in any of your films. You stand with Austrian 
mountaineer Reinhold Messner and talk about how you'd like to 
just walk and walk until the world ends. 

Messner talks of his desire to walk from one Himalayan valley to 
the next without ever looking back. He says that 'either my life or 
the world stops. Presumably it will be that as my life ends, so will 
the world.' This is something that I have always thought about. I 
like the idea of just disappearing, walking away, turning down the 
path and just carrying on until there is no more path to follow. I 
would like to have Huskies with leather saddle bags and just walk 
and walk on until there is no road left. 

Who is Reinhold Messner? 

In the 1970s Messner7 was one of the young climbers who 
brought a new approach to the sport. He was determined to climb 
the peaks of the Himalayas alpine style and succeeded in reaching 
the peaks of all fourteen mountains over 8,000-metres that exist 
on this planet, and did it without large-scale expeditions with 
hundreds of sherpas. He was the first to climb in the Himalayas 
with just a rucksack and no fixed camps, and also the first to 


The Dark Glow of the Mountains 

climb Mount Everest without oxygen - wliat he called 'fair 
means' - considered a great achievement in the mountain-climb- 
ing community. An Italian named Maestri, a very famous climber 
of the 1950s and 1960s, used to scale peaks by hauling himself up 
inch by inch with sledgehammers and hooks and machine drills. 
It would take him weeks and weeks to get to the top. Frankly, 
an utterly ridiculous thing to do. I could climb the World Trade 
Center if I had all that equipment and three months to spare. 
Maestri's approach was another case of the perversion of adven- 
turism in mountain climbing. He shamed and embarrassed 
every mountain he climbed this way. Messner, by using as little 
technical equipment as possible, really is the father of modem 
mountaineering, a man with an incredibly professional attitude. 
He is a man of fantastic survival skills, truly amazing. Not only 
technical skills, but also his sense of exactly what is happening 
and when something is not right. I have learned a lot from him 
about evaluating danger. 

The Dark Glow of the Mountains came from questions I was 

asking myself. Why did Messner - a man who lost his brother 
during an expedition - feel the need to climb Nanga Parbat for a 


second time? What motivates a man like this? One time I asked 
him, 'Don't you think you're a httle deranged to keep chmbing 
mountains?' 'All creative people are insane,' he said to me. I 
always felt the man had the wisdom of the snake, sitting there 
coiled up, waiting for the opportunity to strike. One time he said 
to me that he was unable to describe the feeling that compels him 
to climb any more than he could explain what compels him to live. 
For me the film was also some kind of predecessor to something 
much bigger that I wanted to do. I wanted to make a feature film 
in the high altitude zone of K2, the second highest and most beau- 
tiful of the Himalayan mountains, and in preparation for this I 
wanted to make a relatively small film in the extremes of the 
8, mountains with Messner and his climbing part- 
ner Hans Kammerlander to test the situation, learn about the 
logistic difficulties of filming up there and what technical problems 
we might experience. I needed to know how feasible it was to get 
supplies for everyone up there. During filming we experienced 
temperatures so low that raw stock in the camera would break like 
uncooked spaghetti. Later in the filming a gigantic avalanche hit 
the bottom of the glacier a mile away from us. Like an atomic 
explosion, the impact sent a cloud of snow towards us, and wiped 
out our camp. I quickly abandoned my plans. 

Did you feel you were pushing Messner too far when you asked 
him about his brother? 

Messner has appeared on every single talk-show that German 
television has ever aired. He has a very polished media attitude, 
he is a great showmaster and knows how to handle all kinds of 
media situations. Messner knew in making the film that I would 
be digging deep into the untouchable parts of him, and might ask 
difficult questions about the Himalayan expedition where his 
brother died. Before we started the film I told him, 'There will be 
situations in which I will go far. But you are a smart fellow, you 
know how to defend yourself.' It was difficult to decide whether to 
keep the sequence with him weeping in the film, but I finally called 
him up and said, 'You have done these lifeless talk-shows all your 
life. Now, all of a sudden, something very personal has been 
brought to light, you are here as someone who is not just another 


perfect athlete or who conquers every mountain with cold perfec- 
tion. That is why I have decided to keep the scene.' And once Mess- 
ner saw the finished work he was glad we went as far as we did. 
What was difficult at first was getting him to appear on camera 
as himself. The first thing we shot was a sequence right in front of 
Nanga Parbat. We were driving at night and when I awoke the 
next morning I saw the mountain right in front of me. It was 
absolutely stunning, not a cloud in the sky. Nanga Parbat is some- 
thing like Messner's nemesis: it is where his brother died and where 
he lost most of his toes. So I woke Messner up and got him in front 
of the camera, and immediately he starts this kind of media-rap 
that he is so used to giving. I stopped the camera immediately and 
said, 'That is not the way I want to do a film with you. There is 
something deeply and utterly wrong to continue like this. Not one 
foot of film will be wasted that way. I need to see deep inside your 
heart.' Messner looked at me kind of stunned and was silent most 
of the rest of the day. Towards evening he came to me and said, 'I 
think I have understood.' There would be no mercy for him, 
because film per se knows no mercy. 

What mountain is it they are climbing in the film? 

I should explain that in mountain climbing it is considered a par- 
ticular feat to climb an 8,000-metre mountain, and Messner has 
done them all. To traverse a mountain using one route and then 
climb down the other side of the same mountain is considered an 
extraordinarily difficult feat. But what Messner and Kammerlan- 
der did during this expedition was traverse two 8,000-metre 
mountains - Gasherbrum 1 and 2 - in one go, something never 
attempted before. And they did it without oxygen and sherpas, a 
remarkable feat of climbing that has never been repeated. They set 
off at 2 a.m. in the morning in pitch darkness with lights on their 
helmets and had to maintain a fantastic speed as they could carry 
only a small amount of provisions. Of course there was no way for 
me to follow them with a camera, that was clear from the start, so 
the shots of the summit are taken by Messner himself. When they 
took off for the summit Messner said to me, 'Maybe we will not 
survive this. If you do not hear from us within ten days we must be 
dead. It would take twenty days for help to arrive, much too long 


to save us. So if this happens, you take over the expedition and see 
that the sherpas get paid with the money I deposited in such and 
such a place.' And then he left without uttering another word. I 
had not even asked him a question. 

I went only as far as the base camp, a little over 5,000 metres 
up. But then I climbed - without a camera - with a Spanish expe- 
dition another 1,500 metres. They had some supply camps they 
wanted to clear out and I went to help them retrieve things, so 
they took me along a very difficult and dangerous area of the gla- 
cier. Slabs of ice as big as office blocks that keep on shifting. It is 
easy to perish there because of deep crevasses in the vast shifting 
masses. The Spaniards moved up very quickly and I realized when 
we had arrived at the camp that I had signs of altitude sickness. 
The symptoms are clearly recognizable. You become very apa- 
thetic, and I remember just sitting down in the snow with my 
whole body just slumped. It was very alarming to me and I 
decided to go down to the camp on my own, which was an utterly 
stupid thing to do. I almost fell into a snow-covered crevasse. I 
had a very lucky escape. 

One of my favourite photos of you is on the set of "Fitzcarraldo in 
the jungle, the clapper-board is in your mouth and you're clamber- 
ing up the hillside while Kinski stands proudly looking down at 
you. When you were making the film there was much talk in the 
press of you being an 'adventurer' in the jungle. Are you an adven- 
turer? Or maybe an explorer? I've also read in plenty of places that 
you're most definitely a masochist too. 

I think I would be the last one who could be labelled a masochist. 
It comes to this, plain and simple: things have to be done for the 
sake of the film, personal sacrifices maybe have to be made, and 
once you decide on a certain project like Fitzcarraldo, it just does 
not matter how many difficulties are encountered and how much 
pain it costs. I knew full well what the film would involve and 
knew that I myself was insignificant compared to the work we 
had to do, regardless of whether it cost many sleepless nights or 
gallons of sweat or whatever. I always wanted to be a good sol- 
dier who wants to win, does not complain and holds the position 
that others have already abandoned. The hardships encountered 


do not interest me and they should not interest the public either. 
The only thing that counts is what you see on the screen. 
We have spoken of risk-taking and the accusations that I am a 
megalomaniac. Another one that comes up is that I purposely make 
things more difficult for myself and the actors. I assure you I would 
rather have filmed Fitzcarraldo in the middle of Central Park, the 
only problem being there is no jungle there. I would have directed 
from a suite on Fifth Avenue, just like a few years later I would 
rather have filmed Scream of Stone in Munich where I could have 
slept in my own apartment and travelled to the set on a funicular. 
For years I have been explaining that while maybe mountaineers 
are motivated to seek out the most difficult routes, this would be 
wholly unprofessional and irresponsible for me as a filmmaker. You 
can bet your life I would never have made a single film if I had pur- 
posely sought out trouble. Filmmaking is difficult enough already, 
and it is just plain bad luck that I am drawn to characters like Fitz- 
carraldo whose mission is to pull a boat over a mountain. I am 
never seeking adventure; I am just doing normal work. 
There is such a vast difference between exploring and adventur- 
ing. I am curious. I am searching for new images and dignified 
places, but I am not an adventurer, even though I am often given 
that contemptible tag. To me, adventure is a concept that applies 
only to those men and women of earlier historical times, like the 
mediaeval knights who travelled into the unknown. The concept 
has degenerated constantly since then and turned into an ugly 
embarrassment when, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, 
people attempted to reach the North and South Poles. Such acts 
contradict my definition of adventure, for those kinds of voyages 
served only the purpose of self-promotion, nothing else. There is 
nothing interesting about the North Pole; it is just water and drift- 
ing ice, and I feel the labelling of these kinds of voyages as the great 
remaining adventures of humankind was an embarrassment. 

Is this something to do with the fact that so many of these kinds of 
voyagers have attempted to domesticate and conquer nature? 

Exactly, and that so many speak of their travels in such military 
terms. 'We conquered the summit.' 'We returned victorious over 
Mount Everest.' I just cannot stand it. And what's more, local 


mountain people do not climb the mountains; they respect them 
much more than these so-called 'adventurers'. There is some foul 
philosophy behind this quest of adventure. I would like to make a 
comparison with a river that is sick. You find dead fish, white, 
bloated and belly up, floating in the water. Today, the concept of 
adventure has this kind of rottenness to me. Oh, what a big shot 
you were in 1910 when you came back from Africa and told the 
ladies how many elephants you shot! Do the same thing at a party 
today and you will have the first available glass of champagne 
tossed in your face. Very soon from now, 'adventurers' should 
receive the same treatment. 

I absolutely loathe adventurers, and I particularly hate this old 
pseudo-adventurism where the mountain climb becomes about 
confronting the extremes of humanity. I had some arguments with 
Messner about this. For a while he stylized his media persona on 
the concept of 'The Great Adventurer' and would make pro- 
nouncements that he was some kind of vicarious adventurer for 
the public. Me, I am waiting for the ridiculous act of the first one 
barefoot on Mount Everest. My God, you can even book an 
'adventure holiday' to see the headhunters of New Guinea. Just 
make sure you follow your tour guide and do not get lost. This is 
the kind of absurdity pervading the utterly degenerate concept of 
'adventurism', one that reveals only its ugly face nowadays. 
On the other hand, I love the Frenchman who crossed the whole 
of the Sahara in reverse gear in a zCV. And I love people like Mon- 
sieur Mange Tout, who ate his own bicycle. I think he also tried to 
eat a twin-engined aeroplane. What a guy! 

He's dead. 

Really? Ah well, there will surely be another like him. 


1 See Chapter 5, foonote 12. 

2 Tom Luddy (b. 1943, USA), film producer, co-founder of the Tel- 
luride Film Festival and former head of Berkeley's Pacific Film 

3 Construction started in 1882 at the height of the rubber boom and it 
opened on New Year's Eve 1896. 'No expense was spared to make 


Teatro Amazonas the grandest opera house in the world. Everything 
was brought from Europe: wrought iron staircases from England, 
crystal chandeliers from France, classical busts and marble from Italy. 

The wood is Brazilian, but it was sent to Europe to be polished and 
carved.' (Daily Telegraph, 17 June 2001.) 

4 See Bernard Diederich's Somoza and the Legacy of U.S. Involvement 
in Central America (Junction Books, 1982.). 

5 The Volkssturm was established in September 1944. All previously 
non-conscripted men between the ages of sixteen and sixty (totalling 
6 million) were called up in this last-ditch attempt to ward off the 
Allied forces. The battalions were deployed mainly in areas close to 
where they had been assembled, but remained very poorly trained 
and led, and were often forced to fight vnth captured weapons. More 
often picks and shovels were used. 

6 Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz's 'The Miskito Indians of Nicaragua' 
(Minority Rights Group, 1988) gives political and historical back- 
ground to the issues raised in Ballad of the Little Soldier, while 
George Paul Csicsery's article 'Ballad of the Little Soldier: Werner 
Herzog in a Political Hall of Mirrors' (Film Quarterly, Winter 
1985/86) describes the political controversy raised by the film. 

7 Reinhold Messner (b. 1944, Italy) was for many years considered the 
world's greatest mountain climber. More recently he has been pursu- 
ing his interest in the Yeti, who he allegedly encountered in Tibet in 
1986. Since 1999 he has been a Member of the European Parliament 
for the Green Party. See his book All Fourteen Eight-Thousanders 
(Crowood Press, 1999). 


7. The Work of lllusionisb 

In the 1979 documentary about you, I Am My Films, you said, 'I 

could have made my films anonymously and still people seeing the 
films would know me pretty well. ' What did you mean by that? 

It was more than twenty years ago and it all sounds rather heavy 
to me now. But there is a certain truth in it and I can still accept a 
statement like that, though with much more caution today. The 
low-level answer to your question is that the people in my films - 
particularly the real-life ones - are for me not just mere characters; 
they are a vitally important part of my life. The more I have pro- 
gressed as a filmmaker, the more I find it is real life I have been 
filming, my life. I do not sit and write a script about something that 
interests me and then feel in some way detached from what I have 
just written, as if I have freed myself from it. Rather, these two pro- 
cedures - being fascinated by something and then processing it 
into a film - are simultaneous and inextricably linked. Sure, there 
are some films that are not as close to me as others, but I really do 
like all my films, maybe with the exception of the first two. I love 
them as I love my children. Children are never perfect, one might 
have a limp, the other a stutter, they all have their weaknesses and 
their strong points. But what matters is that they are all alive; it 
just does not matter that every single one of my films is flawed in 
some way. Although I have made many films, they are all present 
in my being all my time. In this respect I am like some of the 
African tribesmen who can count only up to ten, but they only 
need to cast a glance at their herds of 600 cattle to realize whether 
some of them are missing. Or like a mother of many children who 


can tell if one is missing when she enters a train compartment in 
which she has placed them. And like that mother, I know some of 
my children are missing and that a few of them are still on their 
way, the films that I have not yet made. The opportunity - or event 
- of making them has not yet occurred. 

I am not like some other filmmakers who, having finished one 
project, sets about looking for the next screenplay to film or the 
rights to the next big bestseller to buy. For me, it has always been 
a question of doing just one single thing: searching for a new gram- 
mar of images and expressing this desire through the films I have 
made. I hope you can see that the films count much more than any- 
thing I can possibly tell you as we sit here. I am some strange crea- 
ture moving on through life and leaving tracks in the sand. The 
tracks are my films. As a child I never asked myself, 'What shall I 
do with my life?' It just never occurred to me that I even had a 
choice. Sure, I can sit here and talk about how and when the films 
were made, but it is so misleading to have you focusing on me per- 
sonally because the only thing that really counts is what you see on 
the screen. 

I can only hint at a higher-level answer to your question, and 
that has to do with an attitude I have towards certain things. I have 
asked myself why am I different from, let's say, most of the Amer- 
icans who have goals in life and who strive for happiness. The 
'right' to happiness is even in their Declaration of Independence. I 
keep on asking myself why I do not care so much about happiness. 
I simply do not have goals in life. Rather, I have goals in existence. 
I would make a very clear distinction between the two, and I hope 
that makes sense to you. 

A little. Do you consider yourself to be an independent filmmaker? 

What does it really mean to be independent? Independent from 
what? There is no independent cinema, with the exception of the 
home movie made for the family album. I remember one time I was 
shooting in New York and showed up with my rental van at the 
place where I wanted to rent some equipment. The man said, 'You 
cannot pick it up yourself, a union truck has to deliver it.' I said, 
'But my van is ten feet from your door here.' There was an endless 
debate until I just picked up the cameras and carried them to my 


van An absolute waste of time. In Hollywood there are too many 
rituals and hierarchies, and to be independent means to be free of 
things like this. I have always known that true independence is a 
state of mind, nothing more. I am self-reliant. That probably 
describes me better. 

Has it generally been easy to find money for your films? 

For my entire working life I have struggled to find money. But the 
money is really not that important. I knew the second I walked out 
of the office of those producers all those years ago that I would 
never shoot a single frame of film if I continued wasting my time 
with people like that. If you want to make a film, just go and make 
it. I cannot tell you the number of times I have started shooting a 
film knowing I did not have the money to finish it. Financing of 
films only comes when the fire ignites other fires. That is what 
happens when you are into filmmaking. It is a climate you have to 
create, one that has to be there otherwise nothing is going to 
happen. I am not into the culture of complaint. Everyone around 
the world, whomever I meet, starts to complain about the stupid- 
ity of money. It seems to be the very culture of filmmaking. Money 
has only two qualities: it is stupid and it is cowardly. Making films 
is not easy; you have to be able to cope with the mischievous real- 
ities around you that do everything they can to prevent you from 
making your film. The world is just not made for filmmaking. You 
have to know that every time you make a film you must be pre- 
pared to wrestle it away from the Devil himself. But carry on, 
dammit! Ignite the fire. Create something that is so strong that it 
develops its own dynamic. Ultimately, the money will follow you 
like a common cur in the street with its tail between its legs. 
The best example of this happened many years ago. I wanted to 
publish my screenplays and prose texts, and by this time I had 
something of an international reputation, so I approached Suhrkamp 
Verlag to see if they would be interested in publishing the books. 
When they turned me down, I immediately realized that there was 
no point spending time sending out letters to other publishers 
asking them the same question. So I just set up my own publishing 
house, Skellig, and published Heart of Glass and two volumes of 
screenplays which included Aguirre, Fata Morgana, Signs of Life 


and The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. I printed a few thousand 
copies of each title, and whenever I was invited to talk at a cinema 
would load a box into my car and sell them to the audience. They 
cost something like 4 DM a copy to produce, and I charged 5 DM 
per copy, so I actually made a small profit on them. If a big pub- 
lishing house had produced the book and sold it in a store it would 
have cost eight times as much, but I just did not need to get 
involved with that kind of thing. I did not need advertising and a 
complex system of distribution, the things that make books expen- 
sive. The technical costs of a book are actually quite minimal. And 
then, once it was clear how successful the books had been, Carl 
Hanser Verlag in Munich contacted me and asked if they could 
continue publishing the texts. I agreed, but insisted that the cover 
design had to be exactly the same as the Skellig editions, a very 
simple design of orange lettering on a black background with no 
photographs at all except on the front cover. 

Have your films made money for you? 

That is not a question I can really answer. You know I have never 
functioned in the way that a traditional movie producer does. It 
was always a long-range perspective I had, more than just the 
day-to-day financial arrangements. For ten years in Germany I 
worked in a vacuum with very few critical or financial returns. 
When, for example, Aguirre was released in the cinema the same 
day it was screened on television and did very badly, both on TV 
and in the cinema, the question of survival raised its head yet 
again. 'How can I survive this disaster? And how can I continue 
working?' To this very day these are the questions I constantly 
carry with me, even after forty years. But I always had faith in my 
films and in the knowledge that one day they would be seen and 
enjoyed. This is what has kept me going over the years: faith and, 
just as importantly, perseverance. Things do not happen overnight, 
and filmmakers must be prepared for years of hard work, even if 
with filmmaking - compared to something like novel-writing or 
painting - there is a real financial imminence from day one because 
it is so expensive. But even though I have invested everything back 
into my films over the years, I live like a rich man. My forty-five 
films or so have meant I could do the things I have truly wanted to 


do throughout my hfe, which is priceless. There are very few peo- 
ple who can say this. It is more valuable than any cash you could 
ever have thrown at me. I made films, other people bought houses. 
Money lost, film gained. Today, for example, I can earn money on 
films I made thirty years ago by releasing them on DVD, screening 
them on television and at retrospectives. At a very early age I 
understood that the key to this business is self-reliance and, cru- 
cially, being your own producer. 

What also makes me rich is that I am truly welcome almost 
everywhere. I can show up with my films and am given real hospi- 
tality, something you cannot achieve with money alone. At lunch 
yesterday you saw how that man insisted on paying for our meal. 
'Thank you for Woyzeck,' he said. For years I have struggled 
harder than you can imagine for true liberty, and am privileged in 
the way that the boss of a huge powerful corporation never will be. 
In fact, hardly anyone in my profession is as free as I am. 

You have to eat, though, have a roof over your head. 

I never cared about pajdng myself when I made the films. Early on, 
I never took a salary for writing and directing because I produced 
them myself, and also worked a great deal with my brother and my 
wife. The money we found we cobbled together from revenues of 
previous films, subsidies and pre-sales, and we used it for only the 
very bare essentials, like travel costs, raw stock and lab fees, cos- 
tumes, things like that. In the early days I made a living, but only 
just. I have always preferred to spend every possible penny I can 
scrape together for the films themselves, even if I might not know 
how I will pay my rent next month. Somehow I always manage. I 
have always lived with few possessions, most of which are the 
tools of my trade: a camera and a car, a laptop and a Nagra tape 
recorder. For many years I also had a flatbed editing table. 
It is not money that moves ships over mountains, it is faith. And 
it is not money that makes films, it is these things [holds up his 
hands]. You have to establish just one little heap of money and 
make it seem big. There is a German proverb: 'Der Teufel scheifit 
immer auf den grossten Haufen.' 'The Devil always shits on the 
biggest heap.' So heap up a little money, then the Devil will shit 
on it. 


Where did the idea of the aborigine drama Where the Green Ants 
Dream come from? 

I had spent some time in Australia in the early 1970s at the Perth 
Film Festival, where I read about the battle between some aborigines 
and a Swiss company that did bauxite mining in the north-west 
of the country. Soon afterwards I wrote the story of a group of 
Australian tribal aborigines struggling to defend their sacred site - 
the place where the Green Ants dream - against the bulldozers of 
a mining company. The courtroom scenes in the film are actually 
based in part on the real court transcripts. 

I was also fascinated by the fact that only two centuries ago in 
Australia there were approximately 600 different languages, and 
today there are less than one-tenth of that number left. When we 
made the film there were about six people who were believed to be 
the very last speakers of their language as there was nobody else 
left of the tribe. The tragedy is irrevocable. It was a real pleasure 
working with the local aborigines, though there were a couple of 
objections they raised; for example, one of the names in the screen- 
play. Apparently, there was a deceased member of their community 
who had the same name, and once a man dies, for at least ten years 
afterwards you must never say that name out loud. They would 
speak of 'the man who died'. The other objection they made is one 
visible in the film: the sacred objects during the courtroom scene. 
It actually happened that in a case heard before the Supreme Court 
of the Northern Territories, the aborigines produced some sacred 
objects which they had dug up that had been buried for about 200 
years and asked that all the spectators in the courtroom be 
removed so they could show them only to the judge. They were 
wooden carved objects, completely beyond the comprehension of 
an Anglo-Saxon judge. Yet for the aborigines it was the proof of 
why and how they belonged to this special area. For the film they 
asked me not to show anything, and even refused my offer to fab- 
ricate some duplicates. Therefore they are not visible in the film; 
you only see that they have something wrapped. 

Though based on ancient tribal mythology, isn't the idea of the 
Green Ants your own invention? And what is the aborigine con- 
cept of "dreaming '? 


where the Green Ants Dream 

I made up the story of the Green Ants. There is a character in the 
film - some kind of specialist - who spouts all sorts of facts 
about green ants, but of course it is all invented. Also, I did not 
want to be like an anthropologist, strictly following the facts, but 
felt it would be better to include in the film legends and mj^hol- 
ogy that come close to the thinking and the way of life of the 
aborigines. I have to be careful when discussing concepts like 
'dreaming' because I am no expert. I cannot bear it that there are 
so many people - missionaries of all kinds, anthropologists and 
politicians - who claim to understand the aborigines completely. 
The aborigines come from a stone-age culture that strongly and 
practically influenced their way of life until only maybe two or 
three generations ago. There is something like 20,000 years of 
history that separates us from them. My very limited under- 
standing is that the aboriginal dreamtime stories and myths 
Explain the origins of everything on the planet and were espe- 
cially important to the pre-colonial aborigines. I can say that the 
film is certainly not their 'dreaming', it is my ovm. At the same 
time, of course, I could not claim to make their cause my cause. 
That would be ridiculous. One of the tribesmen even told me. 


'We do not understand you either, but we see that you have your 

own dreaming.' 

It is very beautiful how the whole continent of Australia some- 
how is spread over with a kind of river network of dreams or 
'songlines'. The aborigines would sing a song when travelling and 
through the rhythm of the song would identify a landscape. My 
friend Bruce Chatwini once travelled with them in a car and 
said they would sing in fast-motion - as if you were running a tape 
forward at ten times the normal speed - because the car was pass- 
ing so fast and the rhythm of the song had to keep up with the 
landscape. There are things about the aborigines we will never 
comprehend and that are very beautiful. Simply, because I respect 
them as a people who are in a deep struggle to keep their visions 
alive, and because my own understanding of them was limited, I 
wanted to develop my own mythology. 

You don't really like the film, do you? 

Well, the film is rather blatant about having something of a 
'message'. It has such a self-righteous tone to it that I wish I had 
cut out of the film; it stinks to high heaven. The film is not that 
bad, it just has a climate to it that I cannot stand. I still like the 
shots at the beginning and end very much, images as if from the 
end of the world. Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein spent four weeks in 
Oklahoma just to chase after tornadoes. It is how I see the col- 
lapse of this planet, a tornado that comes and wipes everything 
away, sucks everything into the clouds. I was very intrigued by 
hurricane 'Tracy' that destroyed the city of Darwin in north- 
western Australia. A few years later I saw some of the destruc- 
tion, a huge water tank with a vast rectangular imprint on it. 
What had happened was a refrigerator had flown through the air 
for a few kilometres and smashed into the tank, a hundred feet 
above the ground. 

You then joined up with Kinski again to make Cobra Verde. After 
the filming you made certain pronouncements that it would almost 
certainly be your final collaboration. 

The production was, simply, the worst in my life and I publicly 
swore after filming that I would never again work with Kinski. 


Cobra Verde 

At the time I thought to myself, 'Will somebody please step in 
and carry on the work with this man? I have had enough.' There 
was something about Kinski's presence in the film that meant a 
foreign stink - his stink - pervaded the work we did together 
there, and Cobra Verde suffers somewhat because of this. I will 
not say I resent this, but the film does feel rather foreign to me. 
In some scenes there is a certain stylization that Kinski forced on 
the film that is vaguely reminiscent of spaghetti westerns. To this 
very day I have difficulties with certain scenes because they have 
something in them that I felt very strongly on the set but that I 
wanted to avoid capturing on film. When Kinski arrived for the 
early part of the film in Colombia he was falling apart. To hold 
him together and make him productive, to harness all his insan- 
ity, his rage and his demonic intensity was a real problem from 
day one. Kinski was like a hybrid racehorse who would run a 
mile and after reaching the finish line collapse. However, at the 
time of Cobra Verde he was in a different film. BCinski had writ- 
ten a confused screenplay of the only film he was ever to direct, 


the life story of Paganini, with himself in the title role. For years 
he had implored me to direct it, and I always said no. He already 
had his script of the only film he was ever to direct, the life story 
of Paganini, with himself in the title role. He would always ask 
me if I wanted to direct it, and I always said no. 

Every single day I did not know if the film would ever be finished 
because Kinski terrorized everyone on set. He would halt filming 
even if one of the buttons on his costume was too loose. In fact, he 
terrorized cinematographer Thomas Mauch and I had to replace 
him within the first week. This was one of the worst things I have 
ever done in my life. Thomas loved the film but unfortunately 
caught the brunt of Kinski early in the battle. I chose his replace- 
ment, the Czech Victor Riizicka, because I had heard he was 
physically strong, built like a peasant, and very patient. Anyone 
else probably would have quit within two hours. 

Was pre-production in Africa any easier than the shoot itself? You 
said earlier that the continent never seemed to be very friendly to 

Logistically, pre-production was problematic. Sometimes it was 
so hot you could not even step outside. To find a telephone that 
worked was a major chore, there was hardly any gasoline for our 
cars, and I had to make sure there was accommodation, transport 
and food for cast and crew. We even had to build an entire palace 
- the one you see in the film - in only ten weeks in Ghana, which 
was constructed in the traditional style. We worked around the 
clock with nearly zoo workers. Then we had another ten weeks 
to choose the Amazon army of a thousand young women. We 
gathered them all together at a football stadium in Accra, the cap- 
ital of Ghana, where an Italian stunt co-ordinator trained them in 
the use of swords and shields. They were a truly frightening 
bunch of ferocious, eloquent, proud, strong women. One time we 
asked them to line up in front of these huge pots of food we had 
prepared for them which they did, but after about thirty seconds 
they all rushed over - hundreds and hundreds of them - and were 
piled about twelve deep around these vast pots. The food was 
ruined. Another time we had to line them up in the inner yard of 
the slave fortress to pay them. We opened only a small gateway 


through the main door which meant that they came out one after 
the other, otherwise they would have fallen over the money. What 
happened from inside was that 800 of them pushed against the door at 
the same time and were squashing the ones at the front 
almost to death. Some of them were fainting, and I diffused the 
situation only by grabbing a nearby policeman and getting him to 
fire three shots into the air to make them retreat. Often we had to 
wait to clear the area we were shooting in because so many peo- 
ple were wandering in and out of shots. All the costumes and 
other props had to be produced in an extremely short period of 
time, which caused endless headaches because normally in Africa 
ever3/thing takes much longer than it should do. It is not a ques- 
tion of money; even with $25 million I would still have had as 
many problems. You just have to deviate from your normal way 
of doing things and try to understand their improvisations and 
tempo. You cannot be a strict Prussian military type of organizer 
or you would probably be thrown out of the country after two 

When did you first come across Bruce Chatwin's novel The Viceroy 
of Ouidah? 

Around the time of Fitzcarraldo I had read Chatwin's In Patago- 
nia and was so impressed J immediately read his On the Black 
Hill and The Viceroy of Ouidah, the nineteenth-century story of 
the bandit Franciso Manoel da Silva, who travels from Brazil to 
the Kingdom of Dahomey in Africa and becomes a viceroy and 
slave trader. I am a great admirer of Joseph Conrad and Chatwin, 
I feel, is somehow in the same league. He had some sort of touch 
you rarely see in literature. I contacted Chatwin to let him know 
about my interest in the book, but added I could not undertake 
such a monstrous project right after Fitzcarraldo. I had to lick my 
wounds for a couple of years at least, do some easier stuff like 
Where the Green Ants Dream, some operas, some smaller films. I 
asked him to let me know immediately if someone else wanted to 
buy the rights to the book, and a few years later he contacted me 
to say that David Bowie's agents had expressed an interest. 
Apparently Bowie had read the book and wanted to direct the 
film, so I bought the rights. 


The novel doesn't exactly have a linear narrative, so presumably it 
took some careful thinking as to how to structure the screenplay. 

The first thing I did was explain to Chatwin that the story in The 
Viceroy of 0uidah2 was not a film story perse, which meant there 
would be certain technical problems in adapting the book. It is 
narrated in a series of concentric circles, and I knew a film would 
have to proceed in a more linear way. Rather than having the 
story and intrigue of a cinematic work, the book captures the 
inner world of an amazing character, as well as a rich under- 
standing of Africa and the slave trade itself. I told Chatwin I 
would have to invent a lot of things and narrate the tale in a dif- 
ferent way. 'Let's go ahead with it,' Chatwin said. He never 
wanted to get mixed up with the screenplay or involve himself in 
the production, though he was on location with us in Africa for a 
few days.3 

Did the slavery element play a large part in your wanting to tell the 
story? Is the film in some way an indictment of the nineteenth- 
century slave trade? 

No, the film is not about the history of colonialism, and nor is 
Chatwin's novel. And I do not consider it a historical film just as I 
never saw Aguirre as being in any way historical. A film like Invin- 
cible is much more a film about the era in which it is set than 
Cobra Verde, though I hesitate to push that point too much either. 
Cobra Verde is about great fantasies and follies of the human 
spirit, not colonialism. 

The fact is that in Ghana, where we filmed, slavery is still some- 
thing of a taboo subject, unlike colonialism. In the United States 
and the Caribbean there is much debate about slavery, in Brazil 
too, but in many places in Africa the wound of slavery is so deep 
and painful that hardly anyone speaks about it in public. It is an 
almost untouched subject. I have always suspected that one rea- 
son for this is the well-established fact that African kingdoms 
were involved in the slave trade almost as much as the white 
traders. There was also a great deal of slave trading between the 
Arab world and black Africa, and even within African nations 


Africa really seems to be the star of this film, notKinski. 

I think so, yes. When writing the screenplay I preferred to let the 
story move through the action at its own speed and always felt the 
sequences in South America were quite heavy, while it was the 
African part of the story that really interested me. The film 
expands in the second half and the best of the film is when Cobra 
Verde arrives in Africa. What you see of Africa in the film are 
things audiences are not used to seeing in films, like the court ritu- 
als or the flag signals across the beach. The crowd scenes have real 
life to them, wonderfully anarchic and chaotic. In most films set in 
Africa, the continent is portrayed either as a primitive and danger- 
ous place full of savages, or with a kind of Out of Africa nostalgia. 
Cobra Verde deviates from that. I always had the feeling this was 
one of the keys to the film, not the images themselves but rather 
the sophisticated and complex structures of Africa that are up 
there on screen. In many of the modern African countries, political 
and social life is overshadowed by corruption and inefficiency and 
bureaucracy. But within these kingdoms, social life is paramount, 
and the clan system is very strong indeed. If somebody is ill, a kind 
of social-security system ensures that the person who is incapaci- 
tated is taken care of. 

I even managed to get the part of the King of Dahomey to be 
played by King Nana Agyefi Kwame II, the real incumbent King 
of Nsein, a wonderful man who brought 300 retainers of his 
court with him. Everj^hing and everyone you see around him is 
authentic, all the court jesters, princes, princesses, ministers, 
dancers and his musicians and the traditional things that they 
carry. They were all amazing to work with. The kinds of things 
that are in the film are not things you could ever write and cast. I 
could never have found anyone more convincing than him to 
play the part of the King, for he exercised an incredible authority 
over everyone. 

Do you feel that at least some of your films could be categorized as 
being ethnographic or anthropological in any way? 

My films are about as anthropological as the music of Gesualdo 
and the images of Caspar David Friedrich. They are anthropo- 
logical only in as much as they try to explore the human condition 


at this particular time on this planet. I do not make films using 
images only of clouds and trees, I work with human beings 
because the way they function in different cultural groups interests 
me. If that makes me an anthropologist then so be it. But I never 
think in terms of strict ethnography: going out to some distant 
island with the explicit purpose of studying the natives there. My 
goal is always to find out more about man himself, and film is my 
means. According to its nature, film does not have so much to do 
with reality as it does with our collective dreams. It chronicles our 
state of mind. The purpose is to record and guide, as chroniclers 
did in past centuries. 

I know what you are getting at with a question like that. A film 
like Wodaabe cannot really be considered ethnographic because 
some of the film is stylized to such an extent that the audience is 
taken into the realm of the ecstatic. There is no voice-over and 
even the short text at the start of the film tells you only the barest 
facts about these people, that they have been around as a tribe 
since the Stone Age and they are despised by all neighbouring 
peoples. I purposefully pull away from anything that could be 
considered anthropological. In the opening scene of the film the 
tribesmen are rolling their eyeballs, extolling the whiteness of their 
teeth, making these ecstatic faces, and on the soundtrack over 
these images you hear Gounod's 'Ave Maria', a recording made in 
1901 and sung by the last castrato of the Vatican. And the final shot 
is a bridge over the river Niger in Niamey, the capital city of Niger. 
I just happened to see the dromedaries being led across the bridge 
amongst all these cars. For me this is a shot of real depth and 
beauty, similar to the last shot of Pilgrimage with the women cross- 
ing the river that is frozen over. An ethnographic filmmaker would 
never dare do things like this, but as a filmmaker I do. I do not deny 
you can learn a great many 'facts' about the Wodaabe from the 
film, but this certainly was not my primary intention. Using the aria 
means that the film is not a 'documentary' about a specific African 
tribe, rather a story about beauty and desire. Though watching 
these men on their toes might be an odd spectacle to you and me - 
coming as we do from different cultural traditions - the music helps 
to carry us out of the realm of what I call the accountants' truth- 
Without the music, the images of this amazing and bizarre male 
beauty contest just would not touch us as deeply. 


what drew you to the Wodaahe tribe of the southern Sahara? 

The Wodaabe are referred to scornfully by neighbouring peoples as 
'Bororo', a term of abuse that roughly means 'ragged shepherds'. 
Wodaabe, the name they call themselves, means 'those under the 
taboo of purity'. They say that the earth belongs to no one, that it 
would only belong to human beings if they were the shepherds of 
the sun. The tribe numbers no more than about 200,000 people 
who travel around the desert from Senegal on the Atlantic almost 
right across to the Nile, particularly in Mali and in the Republic of 
Niger. The tribes have been in the Sahara since time immemorial 
and have no real concept of the frontiers that exist today. They are 
in strong danger of dying out because their living space has shrunk 
as a result of the dramatic spread southwards of the desert. 
What is fascinating about the Wodaabe is they consider them- 
selves to be the most beautiful people in the world. During prepa- 
rations for their beauty contests you see groups of young men in 
the encampments joking and laughing, trying to make themselves 
handsome and taking pains to dress themselves up and put on 
make-up. Some take the whole day to get ready, and some even 
take herbal aphrodisiacs before the contest starts. It is the men 
who compete against each other in the contests, and it is up to the 
young women to pick one of them out in order to disappear with 
him into the bush for a few nights. For the most part the women 
are already married, which is why they return their handsome 
booty to the bosom of his family once they are done. Occasionally 
they will keep the man wholly for themselves, resuming their 
nomadic journey with him. 

The festival starts at dawn and goes on all night, in fact for the 
following five nights. The young men form a big circle, standing 
shoulder to shoulder in tight formation, and sing and clap their 
hands rhythmically. On each beat they rise up on their toes in 
order to appear even taller for a moment and then take a step to 
the right. In this way the large circle of dancers slowly starts to 
revolve. Outside the circle the women have taken up their posi- 
tions, able to observe as it passes by them. The men roll their eyes, 
flash their teeth and click their tongues in order to draw attention 
to themselves. It is thought to be particularly beautiful to show as 
much of the white of one's teeth and eyeballs as possible, and some 


of them roll their eyes upwards as if in ecstasy. But it is also charm, 
charisma and grand gestures that count too, and the festival 
includes a complicated succession of different dances and ritu- 
als. The young men form straight lines, stride forwards, grimacing 
ecstatically, then retreat until it is time for the moment of decision 
when the winner is chosen. 

When did you first hear of self-proclaimed Emperor Jean-Bedel 
Bokassa, the subject o/Echoes from a Sombre Empire? 

It was during the making of Fata Morgana that I first went to the 
Central African Republic.4 We had ended up there after being 
released from prison in Cameroon. Bokassa was in power and I 
had read a few things about him. He seemed truly bizarre, and the 
evil sparkling of this incredible character was utterly fascinating 
to me. There was such a cornucopia of absolutely unbelievable 
stories surrounding him and his regime. For me, film allows us to 
reveal the least understood truths of man. It pushes on the floor of 
dreams or nightmares; in this case definitely nightmares. Bokassa 
seemed to represent the kind of human darkness you find in Nero 
or Caligula, Hitler or Saddam Hussein, and Echoes from a Sombre 
Empire, the film I made about him, was an attempt to explore 
these dark landscapes that lie at the heart of man. 
The stories about Bokassa are endless and so unbelievable, most 
of which are well documented. Things like him having several chil- 
dren killed because they would not wear his school uniforms, or 
spending a third of the country's national budget to pay for his 
coronation. He also had people indiscriminately thrown to the 
crocodiles and apparently fathered fifty-four children. The deeper 
we dug, the more we discovered these inexpressible tragedies 
worthy of Shakespeare. There is the tale of the two Martines, a film 
in itself. What happened was that when he was a soldier in 
Indochina, Bokassa met a local woman and had a child called 
Martine. Once in power he decided to find her and bring her to 
Africa. What happened was that the girl who was found and 
brought over turned out not to be the real Martine. When he even- 
tually did find the genuine Martine, he generously allowed the 'fake 
one to stay. The two girls were married on the same day in a huge 
celebration, though soon afterwards both husbands were executed. 


Apparently one of them was involved in the murder of the other's 
newborn child. Bokassa decided to send the 'fake' Martine back to 
Vietnam. She was put on a plane that returned only half an hour 
later; it was quite clear to everyone that she had just been pushed 
out over the jungle. 

Did you want to interview Bokassa himself for the film? 

Bokassa was still alive when we made the film, though unfortu- 
nately we never managed to interview him in prison. After he was 
deposed he fled to France and was condemned to death in 
absentia, though after a few years he just could not take the French 
winters any longer and, cold and homesick, boarded a commercial 
airliner believing he would be received like Napoleon returning 
from exile, his nation on its knees before him. Of course, he was 
immediately arrested, put on trial and condemned to death again, 
though his sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment, 
then twelve years, then house arrest. At the time of filming, we did 
have permission from President Kolingba to film him and Bokassa 
did want to meet us, but just before going to the prison we were 
arrested and expelled from the country by the Minister of the 
Interior. From what I understood the Minister was implicated in 
several crimes from the Bokassa era and was very much against the 
idea of us coming over and sticking our noses into things. What I 
did see was some of the secret footage of him in his cell the French 
had filmed so that in case something happened to him they would 
have proof they had not murdered him. 

And did the man really eat human flesh? 

The German Ambassador to the Central African Republic told me 
that one time, after an execution in front of the press and diplo- 
matic corps, the execution squad rushed forward and ripped the 
liver from the body and ate it. This was in public, to demonstrate 
that the power of the dead man had passed over to them now. Dur- 
ing production of the film I spoke to a great many people who had 
stories to tell about Bokassa, and I realized that when there is so 
much hearsay about a single man, when you hear the same stories 
from so many different people, then this speculation really does 
condense into something factual. We have to believe it. 


The deeper truth of the situation is outside of our reach, but not 
the facts. You want a fact? Bokassa was a cannibal, yes. It is as 
simple as that. The conclusions of the tribunal and the lies of the 
remaining witnesses are of little importance. However, though it is 
a fact, I think it is good that something of a mystery remains and 
will always remain, even though during the trial there were very 
precise accounts given by Bokassa's cook about what the Emperor 
liked to eat. There is also evidence that when the French para- 
troopers who assisted in deposing the Emperor opened up the huge 
refrigerators in his palace, they found half the Minister of the 
Interior deep frozen. The other half had been eaten during a state 

When we made the film, even those officials who had been in 
opposition to the Bokassa regime flatly denied he ever ate anyone. 
Such behaviour clearly breaks so many taboos, and admitting such 
things took place in the country in some way casts the whole con- 
tinent of Africa in a bad light. You see the same kind of behaviour 
in Mexico where some people still seriously maintain that the 
Aztecs never sacrificed human beings or never practised cannibal- 
ism because they think it is so shameful. They come up with the 
wildest concoction that it is a fabrication of the Spanish to deni- 
grate the Aztec way of life. But cannibalism is certainly within 
human nature, and it is a phenomenon that has always interested 
me because it has a direct link with a part of ourselves that is very 
ancient and buried deep within us. Maybe we are above such 
things now, but people like Bokassa show us that cannibalism is 
still something that can resurface. Look, for example, at the Nazis 
in Germany. The Germans were a dignified people, the greatest 
philosophers, composers, writers and mathematicians. And, in the 
space of only ten years, they created a barbarism more terrible 
than had ever been seen before. 

How did you find Michael Goldsmith, the man in the film who 
guides us through the story of Bokassa's regime? 

I encountered Michael Goldsmith only after I decided to make the 
film. I do not recall exactly where I first met him, but like those 
who have crossed the Sahara, people who have been in the Central 
African Republic during Bokassa's reign and the chaos of the 


Congo somehow find each other. It is nothing to do with a 'net- 
work' or an3^hing like that. The law that connects people like this 
I cannot describe; they just recognize each other, like me and 
Ryszard Kapuscinski, the Polish writer and philosopher who has 
spent many years in Africa.s Kapuscinski was one of the very few 
people who survived the horrors of the Eastern Congo in the early 
1960s. Within a year and a half he had been arrested forty times 
and condemned to death four times. He is such a forceful person- 
ality, full of such serenity and insight. One day I asked him what 
his worst experience had been, and in this very soft-spoken voice 
he said it was when they threw dozens of poisonous snakes into his 
tiny cell with him. All he said was, "That was not so good. My hair 
turned white in five days.' 

Michael Goldsmith was a journalist who had been imprisoned 
and sentenced to death by Bokassa in the 1970s because he 
insisted Goldsmith was a spy. In fact, he was almost beaten to 
death by Bokassa himself with the imperial sceptre, and wanted 
very much to return and explore the country now that Bokassa 
had been deposed. Right after we finished the film Goldsmith 
went to Liberia and disappeared. It was known that he had been 
taken prisoner by a faction of insurgent rebels, all of them child 
soldiers. Eight-year-old children wearing rags and with Kalash- 
nikov rifles and Mi6s were shooting everyone that moved. Gold- 
smith later told me that they were often drunk and stoned. One 
time they raided a bridal store and dressed up as bride and 
groom. The 'bride' was an eight-year-old boy, wearing a veil and 
a bridal gown with high heels much too big for him and firing his 
rifle wildly. The 'groom' was naked except for a tailcoat that 
dragged after him. Very strange images. Goldsmith was held cap- 
tive in a building from where they had shot a passer-by. He said 
the worst thing was to see, day after day, the decomposition of 
the body. By the end, dogs were carrying the last pieces of the 
body away, and only a dark ugly spot on the street was left. Gold- 
smith had been in situations like this quite often, and even though 
he looked like a librarian, he was a very courageous man and had 
real insights into Africa. He managed to get out of there and saw 
the film when we showed it at the Venice Film Festival. Three 
weeks later he died. 


How did you get involved with the film you shot in India at the 
Palace ofUdaipur? 

The origins of The Eccentric Private Theatre of the Maharaja of 
Udaipur lie in the invitation I received from the Austrian direc- 
tor, singer and creator of events, Andre Heller, to film the mammoth 
event he had organized at the City Palace of Udaipur on the 
banks of Lake Pichola in India. Heller, the man who once staged 
what I think was the largest fireworks display in Europe, had a 
permit from the Maharaja to stage just one time what became the 
events of the film. He sent out people throughout India in search 
of magicians, singers, dancers, snake charmers, fire-eaters and 
performers, ending up with something like 1,000 performers 
speaking a total of twenty-three languages. I get sent a lot of 
screenplays that people want me to make, but I do not get very 
many requests to make films like this so I agreed because I knew 
of Heller's work and his vision was, simply, a unique one. The 
actual event took place in one day, but I wanted to put it all into 
some context and so I invented some kind of a little story for the 
film, something about a palace crumbling into the lake, and 
spent a few days shooting the rehearsals. For Heller it was more 
of a cabaret show, a gathering of performers and jugglers and 
jesters and fire-eaters. That was basically it, nothing really 
beyond that for him. I did it for a friend and I very much enjoyed 
the work and travelling out to India, somewhere I had not been 

Do you ever go to the theatre? 

I dislike theatre profoundly. The few theatrical productions that I 
have watched were an affront to the human spirit. Theatre has 
been so disappointing and revolting for me that I stopped going a 
long time ago. I find stage acting disgusting and not credible at 
all, somehow very dead to the world. The overdramatic forms, 
the screaming, the fake passion, it really pains me to watch. And I 
do not like to make distinctions between professional and non- 
professional actors. The only distinction worth making is between 
who is good on screen and who is not. 

Let me say it even more drastically: you would get me into the 
audience of the World Wrestling Federation before you could drag 


me into a theatre. The kind of fake, choreographed drama that 
wrestlers practise and the characters who speak to the audience 
showing how evil they are, I prefer this kind of fake drama to thea- 
tre. Another thing is that I feel profoundly uncomfortable with 
theatre audiences. I know I do not belong there. I know they feel 
and think and function in a different way to me, and frankly I 
would feel much more comfortable with all the vulgarity of the 
wrestling crowd. 

What led you to translate Michael Ondaatje's play The Collected 
Works of Billy the Kid into German? 

My sister is a theatre director and saw a performance of the play in 
Canada. She decided she wanted to stage it in Germany and asked 
me to translate it. The text is almost impossible to translate; some- 
times it almost destroys grammar and uses invented words. 
Though she never actually staged my version, some time later Carl 
Hanser Verlag heard about it and wanted to publish the Ondaatje 
novel of the same title and asked if I could translate the novel for 
them as there was much overlap between the novel and the stage 
play. 1 agreed because I felt it was an important text. I did have to 
ask Ondaatje himself what certain words meant, but in some cases 
even he did not know, so I would invent a word, just as he had 
done in English. 

I do sometimes read plays, and I particularly like the work of 
Brendan Behan.^ It is much better to read a work rather than see 
it performed because you can imagine all the characters and faces 
and voices. Even though I am a great lover of opera, I profoundly 
dislike going to see other people's productions, with very few 
exceptions. I often see a whole world when I listen to an opera 
and inevitably I am always disappointed when I see someone 
else's vision. Let me put it like this: when I see someone else's 
opera production I see images out there that are in direct contra- 
diction to those in my head. The whole experience is miserable 
for me. 

What about ballet and dance? 

These things are foreign to me. I also do not like concerts because 
I do not really listen when I see an orchestra. I am too interested 


in seeing how the bassist's hands shoot up and down; I just never 
actually hear what they are playing. I am too visually interested 
in what is going on. I like to listen to recordings; I just hear much 
better. And I never go to exhibitions. I do not like the world of 
the vernissage. The crowds you find there are the most repulsive 
of all. 


I have hardly ever been in museums. It is a huge obstacle for me to 
go to a museum. You may not believe it, but I have been to Athens 
fourteen times from a very early age and only on the very last time 
did I have the guts and the nerve to climb up and see the Acropo- 
lis. Incomprehensible to everyone around me: 'Ah, you went to 
Athens! How did you enjoy the Acropolis?' Once in London I 
went to the British Museum because I wanted to see the Rosetta 
stone. Such a monumental achievement to decipher the ancient 
Egyptian hierogljqjhics. Just the size of this achievement and 
knowledge required to decipher something like that, it is just 
utterly fascinating to me. But generally museums intimidate me. As 
do restaurants with very formal waiters. I am deeply scared by the 
sheer thought that somebody serves me as a waiter, and when it is 
overly formal then it is total misery for me. I am close to panic. I 
would rather eat potato chips sitting on the sidewalk than go to 
one of these chic restaurants. The same thing about hotels. Often I 
am forced to stay in hotels when I travel, but whenever there is a 
chance to avoid that world I do. In Berlin, for example, I will sleep 
on my son's floor rather than stay in a hotel. I did not mind living 
on a raft for weeks while shooting Aguirre. It has nothing to do 
with money or physical comfort, but keep me away from hotels, 

We talked about how The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and Nosfer- 
atu were important films for you because they helped create an 
atmosphere of what Lotte Eisner called 're-legitimate' German 
culture. You once said that apart from the Heimatfilm, German 
cinema has created only one other genre: the Bergfilm or mountain 
film of the pre-war era. Does your feature Scream of Stone attempt 
to make any connection to these kinds of German films? 


Throughout the 1920s German directors hke Luis Trenker^ and 
Arnold Fanck^ were producing a great number of mountain films. 
Unfortunately the genre later fell in step with Nazi ideology, which 
is probably the reason why it is somewhat unexplored today. I 
liked the idea of creating a new, contemporary form of mountain 
film,9 like Peter Fleischmann, who used the elements and rules of 
the Heimatfilm'" in Hunting Scenes in Bavaria and brought a new 
depth to the genre. But I would not push the idea of making a 
connection between Scream of Stone and the Leni Riefenstahlii 
melodramas of the 1920s, which actually I have not seen. I find 
Riefenstahl's existence as a filmmaker during the Nazi time a very 
sensitive thing. I cannot figure it out completely, and I would not 
dare to make a judgement. 

I should say at the start that Scream of Stone had a very prob- 
lematic birth. Reinhold Messner, with whom I had worked on my 
film The Dark Glow of the Mountains, had an original idea based 
on a true story for a screenplay about the first apparently success- 
ful attempt on Cerro Torre, a two-kilometre-high needle-like peak 
in Patagonia. Maestri, an Italian climber who I said earlier would 
climb mountains with pneumatic drills, had claimed to have 
reached the summit. However, there had been instant doubt as to 
whether he actually had, flamed in part by the fact that his climb- 
ing partner had never returned and his body was never recovered. 
Walter Saxer, my production manager on many films, picked up on 
the story and developed it with a colleague. He really was the driv- 
ing force behind the film right from the start. I liked the ideas they 
came up with immediately but also saw the script had many weak- 
points, particularly the dialogue. So at first I hesitated to accept the 
project because I did not know to what extent I could articulate it 
in a way I could easily live with. Finally we came to an agreement 
and I stepped into the project, first doing some work myself on the 
screenplay. Unfortunately I found myself up against a wall of stone 
when it came to making real changes, though thankfully I did 
cast the film myself. The character of Fingerless, played by Brad 
Dourif, the climber who leaves a picture of Mae West at the top of 
the mountain, was the only character I was allowed to change in 
the screenplay. It needed more changes very badly, but because I 
was prevented from doing so, I cannot even say that Scream of 
Stone is my film. 


Scream of Stone 

Did your experiences working with Messner on The Dark Glow of 
the Mountains help you at all when you were making Scream of 

Yes, to a certain extent. Cerro Torre is the most dangerous, the 
most difficult and ecstatic mountain on Earth. There really is noth- 
ing like it anjrwhere. It is more a symbolic image of deadly fear 
than a mere mountain. It is a 3,300-metre-high needle of basalt 
sticking straight up into the sky and for years was considered 
unclimbable. The first verified ascent was somewhere in the mid- 
1970s. I think about 200 times more people have succeeded in 
climbing Mount Everest as have ever made it to the top of Cerro 
Torre. You can only truly understand why it strikes so much fear 
into climbers when you see it standing before you. There may be 
higher peaks to scale but what makes Cerro Torre particularly dif- 
ficult are the sheer cliff faces and weather conditions. Most of the 
time there is a pandemonium of storms, and you cannot see the 
peak. I call them storms, but actually we do not have an equivalent 
in our language to describe this phenomenon. The winds easily 


reach 200 kilometres an hour at the top and ice fragments the size 
of my fist come shooting by Uke bullets. Even if you hang on with 
nails and crampons you will still be blown off On a mountain 
near Cerro Torre I saw one unforgettable sight: a waterfall with 
the storm hitting the rocks around it so hard that the waterfall 
literally went up vertically. The water shot straight up into the air 
and dissipated into mist. 

Were you ever at the top of Cerro Torre yourself? 

I was twice on the summit, both times by helicopter of course. It was 
important to go up in the helicopter so I could establish the pattern 
I needed to get the shots I wanted. On a couple of occasions I was 
secured to the side of the peak near the actors so as to be closer to 
what we were shooting. The second time I landed on the summit, I 
remember stepping out of the helicopter with actor Vittorio Mezzo- 
giorno. I turned around and he was on the ground lying as flat as he 
could go with his nails dug as deep into the ice as he could get them. 
He looked up at me and I asked him what was wrong. Very meekly 
he replied, 'Well, I want to get up but my body will not co-operate. 
Give me a little more time.' He was so afraid, and it really made mc 
somehow solidify my friendship with Vittorio. 

He was probably petrified because he had overheard my conver- 
sation with Hans Kammerlander - the climber who appears in 
Gasherbrum and who plays a small part in Scream of Stone - 
where we talked about the cave in the ice that had been built on 
the peak and stocked with provisions for eight days, just in case we 
needed to take refuge. The rope that secured this whole thing was 
somehow loose, so Hans and I tried to pin it back down. When he 
saw me about to grab hold of this rope flying about he grabbed me 
and said, 'Do not lean towards the slope, walk straight, otherwise 
you will start to slide. If you start to slide there is nothing that can 
hold you any more. You will just accelerate and then you will be 
airborne for two kilometres.' And he looked me right in the eye 
and said, 'If that happens, promise me one thing: enjoy the vista.' 

You said you made Dark Glow of the Mountains to see if a feature 
film like Scream of Stone was possible. You seemed to conclude 
that it wasn't. So what problems did you have during filming? 


At one point our helicopter took the actor and world champion 
free-climber Stefan Glowacz, one of the cinematographers - who 
was also a climber - and me up on to a ridge not far from the peak 
of Cerro Torre to prepare a sequence. Normally a team of climbers 
would make extensive preparations, like building an emergency 
shelter, taking provisions and equipment up, and then the actors 
and technical crew would follow. But a storm had been raging for 
ten days, and suddenly we had a calm, crystal clear night followed 
by a beautiful morning without wind. It looked so good that we 
made the mistake of fljang up there without sending a vanguard. 
Once dropped at the ridge the three of us walked towards our 
location, when all of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw 
something that I am sure I will never see again in my life. Some- 
thing absolutely outrageous. As far as the eye could reach, I saw 
clouds below us exploding like gigantic atomic bombs. I immedi- 
ately called the helicopter, which was still in sight. I saw it make a 
loop towards us, it came as close as fifty metres and then, all of a 
sudden, the storm hit us like a bullet. The clouds were over us, 
there was a 200 kilometre per hour storm and the temperature fell 
thirty degrees below. After twenty seconds my moustache was a 
lump of ice. The helicopter was literally tossed away from us and 
we found ourselves alone with no sleeping bags, no tents, no food, 
no ropes. Nothing whatsoever, except two ice-picks. We had to dig 
ourselves into the snow immediately, otherwise we would have 
frozen to death in a few hours. 

We spent a bit more than two days and two nights in this snow 
hole. You can get by with nothing to eat for fifty hours, but water is 
another thing. You have to drink at least a gallon of water a day 
otherwise your toes and fingers will freeze away. Ninety-five per 
cent of all losses of fingers and toes is the result of dehydration. 
After twenty hours the cameraman, a very tough man, was in bad 
shape. He was running a temperature and having cramps, and he 
radioed down that he would not survive another night. We had a 
walkie-talkie which we only used every two hours for a few seconds 
in order to save batteries, and this stark message alarmed our 
team in the valley. Two teams of four climbers were sent out to 
reach us. The strongest of them became delirious, threw his gloves 
into the storm and snapped his fingers. He insisted on calling the 
waiter to pay for his cappuccino. They had to guide him down back 


to the glacier, but an avalanche swept them down some zoo feet. 
They now had no choice but to dig a snow cave themselves, since 
one of them had lost his sunglasses and showed signs of snow blind- 
ness. After fifty hours the clouds burst open for ten minutes, and 
with this lull in the storm the helicopter was able to pick us up. The 
pilot was in a panic and could not wait until the last person - me - 
had scrambled inside, so I crouched in a metal basket outside the 
helicopter holding on to an aluminium bar. When we finally 
touched down my hand was solidly frozen to the bar and we could 
not get it off. Finally one of the Argentinian climbers urinated on to 
it, thawing my hand out and thus releasing it from the bar. 

Your eight half-hour films entitled Film Lesson were shot in Vienna 
during your time as head of the Vienna Film Festival in the early 
1990s. The guests you invited to lecture certainly seem to demon- 
strate that film truly is the art of illiterates, and that cinema's roots 
are most definitely in the 'country fair and the circus'. 

Film Lesson showed the general public my approach to how I 
would run a film school. Every day at a fixed hour in the circus 
tent at the fe.srival I invited a guest, for example, the New York 
magician Jeff Sheridan. Like my magician son Rudolph, whose 
mentor Jeff was, I am absolutely fascinated by the way this man 
presents his magic to audiences with his silent performances. 
Sometimes I wish I could be a magician instead of a filmmaker 
because I would be in direct physical contact with people in the 
street, playing out all these little dramas wdth my bare hands just 
as Jeff Sheridan does. The trick to magic is directing our attention 
wherever the magician wants to, and this is surely also one of the 
secrets of cinema. As a director, you must be capable of pushing 
and pulling the audience's attention in whatever direction the 
story demands. After all, the great pioneer of early cinema, George 
Melies,i2 vvag actually a magician before he became a filmmaker. 
As Jeff said during his demonstration, the whole point of the 
magician is to destroy the logical and the rational. Film seems like 
reality but it is not reality at all, merely a complex illusion. 
Another guest was the tightrope walker Philippe Petit,i3 who is 
also an expert at picking locks, a basic skill that every filmmaker 
should have. Imagine you need to get a shot of a street and there is 


a track blocking your view: it must be removed. When this hap- 
pened to me and the owners refused to move it, I temporarily stole 
it, moved it a hundred yards away and brought it back a few hours 
later. One discussion was with Kamal Saiful Islam, a cosmologist 
from Bangladesh who had worked at the Max Planck Institute in 
Munich. The title of this segment of the film was 'Fantastic Land- 
scapes and the Algebraization of Unthinkable Spaces'. I projected 
small details of fantastic landscapes in paintings by Altdorfer, 
Hercules Segers, Griinewald and Leonardo da Vinci and spoke 
about landscapes of the mind in cinema, while Kamal Saiful Islam 
proved that there are spaces unthinkable for our minds yet which 
can be conclusively proven algebraically; for example, a bottle 
which has only an inside, but definitely no outside. He spoke of the 
future directions that cinema might move in, proving the existence 
of objects and images that are impossible for us to imagine today. 
It reminded me of what people thought during the time of Colum- 
bus. They were scared to travel to the other side of the earth 
because they thought they would hurtle down into empty space. 
Today, every schoolchild can tell you why this is not so, why the 
force of gravity keeps us on the ground regardless of where we 
travel. Similarly, a cinema may be created in the future that is just 
as inconceivable to us today as basic gravitational physics was to 
the contemporaries of Columbus. 

That absolutely no one in the tent understood this kind of imag- 
inative and exotic mathematics did not matter at all. We would 
rave and rant about questions which have bothered me for a long 
time, such as immovable positions wdthin the universe. It is easy to 
relate this to three-dimensional spaces: if you hang yourself by the 
neck in your attic, and somebody finds your body dangling, what 
would this person need to do to fix you in a completely immobile 
position? Answer: one more rope from your ankles down to the 
floor to prevent you from swinging and one more from your belt 
to a wall in order to prevent you from spinning around your axis. 
But how many ropes would be necessary to fix yourself in a totally 
immovable position within the universe? 

I believe our audience understood that it is not the curriculum of 
a traditional film school that makes you a filmmaker, but wild 
fantasies and an agitation of mind over seemingly odd questions. 
As I said, the question about moving big boulders of stones in pre- 


historic times was more the starting point for Fitzcarraldo than 
anything else. 

But surely you do think analytically when it comes to film, at least 
a little. What about your talk earlier of Zorro and Dr Fu Manchu 
and your realization of how film is put together? 

Analytical is probably not the right word because I am not a very 
analytical person. As a child I just increasingly started to look at 
films in a different way, asking myself questions like: why is it that 
in a Zorro film there are never any chickens on the ranches? Why 
does a Western hero never eat noodles? Why is Zorro dressed in 
black, which is normally the costume of the Bad Guy? In the final 
shoot-out is the Good Guy shooting left to right or right to left? 
Things like that. Hardly analytical in the traditional meaning of 
the word. 

Very early on I could see there was a certain grammar of film- 
making that most filmmakers adhered to. Just imagine the hero of 
a Western lying in bed, tucked under a thick eiderdown blanket. 
An impossibility! If the hero is tired he has to sleep outside next to 
the camp fire with his saddle as his cushion and a crude blanket to 
keep himself warm. The only exception to this rule would be when 
he walks up the saloon staircase to the pretty singer's room where 
there will be a perfectly made bed waiting for him on which he will 
lie down. But he will lie down on the cover - never under it - and 
will cross his legs and prop his spurred boots on the brass bedrail. 
Again, covering himself with the blanket is totally out of the ques- 
tion! And when the Good Guy appears, he always appears from 
nowhere, riding on horseback, and when he leaves, he disappears 
into the landscape, riding towards the horizon. There is inevitably 
a real vagueness about where the hero comes from and about 
where he is headed. I suspect there are also very strict laws that 
govern the way a showdown is filmed, laws that are just as rigid as 
other iron rules of the genre. All these kinds of things point to 
some deeply rooted inherent laws which have to do with nomadic 
existence versus sedentary existence. 

For the same reason you will almost never see chickens in West- 
erns. Of course, there were plenty of chicken on real ranches, but 
chickens belong to a more sedentary form of life which is foreign to 


the world of Westerns. And one might well ask oneself what is it 
exactly that the cowboy eats? Of course, he could never eat any- 
thing indoors, though he is permitted to have a drink. But it 
absolutely must be a whisky that comes skidding along the saloon 
bar. Under no circumstances can it be orange juice! Juice is just as 
much a no-no as eating spaghetti. The hero eating noodles or pota- 
toes? Forget it. It could only be beans and bacon cooked in a pan on 
an outdoor fire. Under no circumstances may he fry an egg as this 
would be a violation of the genre's iron laws. And coffee, always 
without milk and sugar, always strong and always from tin mugs. 
So these questions are not really analytical, but neither are they as 
ridiculous as they may at first sound. Ask questions, try to discover 
the hidden mechanics. You will surely discover countless other rules 
that apply to Westerns, or those that govern other genres. 

What about your own lecture for Film Lesson entitled 'Orientation 
in Film'. 

I am someone who likes to travel on foot and this is one reason 
why orientation is so important to me and why I find the idea of 
losing my way very threatening. One thing you will surely have 
observed is that when you sit down at a table with your brother, 
your sister, or some other family member, there will automatically 
be some sort of a seating arrangement. It is the same kind of thing 
as when I occasionally get confused when I go to the cinema. I only 
feel comfortable if I can seat myself some way to the left of the cen- 
tre of the screen, and when I take someone along to the movie it is 
important that he or she sit on my right. Of course, this tj^e of 
seating arrangement is not always possible, but it really does make 
me uncomfortable and cramped if I have to seat myself in a way 
that goes against my inner orientation. 

'Orientation in Film' deals with my need for orientation, but 
also with the unspoken need of cinema audiences. The classic case 
would be an invisible optical axis between two actors which the 
camera must not cross, otherwise both of them would look into 
the same direction instead of opposing each other on screen. This 
gets more tricky if you have three people involved. A shot of a 
barman serving two guests is easy to solve since the bar can serve 
as the axis, but what if there is no bar? I cannot stand disorien- 


tation in movies, and films like Waterloo are wonderful examples 
to learn from: three armies march from three different directions 
and meet at the battlefield, and you always know who is who, and 
coming from where. Aguirre deals a lot with orientation: the army 
moves on with a clear purpose and sense of direction, but some- 
where in the film they lose their orientation and by the end are 
going in circles. The problems of orientation and rhythm can never 
be resolved in the editing room; they are established only during 

My favourite film in this respect is one of Jean-Pierre Melville's. 
A little gypsy gangster is summoned to meet some rivals and he 
secretly checks out the small attic where the meeting is going to 
take place. He tests the possible seating arrangements and notes 
where he would be pushed if threatened with a gun. The only log- 
ical place is a cupboard. He tests how he would stand there, hands 
raised. He leaves his gun hidden on top of the cupboard, just 
inches away from where his raised right hand would almost cer- 
tainly be. But when he leaves the building he is spotted by one of 
the rival gangsters who checks out what the little gypsy might have 
been doing up there. He starts to take potential positions himself 
and finds the gun. All of a sudden space and orientation become 
the leading characters in the film - as they do in other Melville 
films - and I love him for that. 

Could we go back to Aguirre in this respect. What about the final 
shot of the film with the camera circling around the raft? 

In that shot all orientation is lost thanks to the movement of the 
camera, and only a circling, dizzjdng movement remains. The cam- 
era circles around the raft which is pretty much stationary, an 
image that mirrors the story of this man who has no way out and 
no hope of salvation. There were real problems with Aguirre 
because so many of the scenes were set on the moving rafts, which 
meant that if we filmed dialogue from one angle, the riverbank in 
the background would move from left to right on the screen, but 
on the reverse angle from right to left. To avoid confusion I would 
normally pan from one man to the other. If there is no cut, the 
spectator stays orientated, but on a raft that keeps turning and 
spinning the editing possibilities become tricky. 


Let me add something else. During the Second World War, 
Joseph Goebbels'* gave a rather laconic order to all cameramen at 
the front: 'The German soldier always attacks from left to right.' 
That was it, no further explanation. Sure enough, if you take a 
look at old newsreels, you will discover that the Germans always 
advance from the left to the right of the screen. There was some 
logic to this when Germany attacked Russia, as Russia lies east of 
Germany, but what about the war against France? But again, in the 
newsreels of the invasion westwards into Europe, the German 
forces are seen to attack from left to right. Goebbels' trick is still 
used today. You just have to look at television commercials, a 
couple of which I screened during my talk. I think that the ques- 
tion we need to ask ourselves is this: why does the direction of 
their movement make the soldiers look so victorious, so opti- 
mistic? Some people have argued that we read and write from left 
to right, which could be the reason why such a movement will be 
perceived as harmonic. But how does it work in the Arab world, 
where people write from right to left? There must be something 
within us, some hidden law. What it is, I cannot say. I just know 
that it exists. 

While we are on the subject, let me talk about the way directors 
show vast distances covered by their heroes on film. I might have 
just imagined the whole thing, but I seem to remember in Bunuel's 
Nazarin's there is a scene in which Nazarin crosses Mexico on 
foot, walking a thousand miles with a cross over his shoulder. 
Bunuel uses a mere three shots, each one not more than five sec- 
onds long, to give the audience a sense of the immense distance 
that is being covered. How does Bunuel manage to economize in 
this way? How does he compress weeks of walking in fifteen 
seconds? The trick in 'Bunuel's Shot' is that the camera starts 
almost on the ground, pointing up to the sky while the frame 
remains empty for a fraction of a second. Then the character sud- 
denly steps into the image and the camera twists and pans after 
him, watching him walk away into the distance. Five seconds of 
walking will do fine. After that, the whole process is repeated else- 
where and the two shots are cut together. Now we suddenly get the 
impression that Nazarin must have walked a thousand miles! A 
very remarkable phenomenon, how vast distances can be com- 
pressed by using an odd, twisted camera movement. I have no idea 


why it works, though it is a technique I actually used in Heart of 
Glass for the scene at the start of the film when Hias the prophet 
descends from the mountain and walks into the valley below. 

What about the forged document you brought to one class? Why is 
forgery a skill useful to film directors? 

The document you are speaking of was a four-page document that 
I myself had forged in Peru while I was making Fitzcarraldo. It was 
a very extravagant piece of paper with beautiful water marks 
which gave me all kinds of permission to move about the country 
in places where I would not otherwise have been able to go, areas 
that were swarming with the military. The soldiers were constantly 
stopping us and telling us we were not permitted to proceed. The 
document was apparently even signed by the President of the 
Republic and Supreme Commander of the armed forces, Belaunde, 
though of course it was one of our people who had put their pen 
to it. We needed to stamp it so it looked more authentic and I 
found a very impressive one in German that said something like 
'To acquire the reproduction rights of this photo contact the 
author', something I knew nobody out there in the jungle would be 
able to decipher. That particular document opened so many doors 
for me, and Fitzcarraldo would not have been made without this 
fabrication. I did no harm to anyone by fabricating such a thing, I 
just needed to navigate downriver - through the militarily con- 
trolled areas - and when I showed the document to the soldiers 
and they saw the signature of the President on this impressive piece 
of paper they immediately saluted and let us through. 
Take my advice and be prepared, study how to fake a document. 
Carry a silver coin or medal with you at all times. If you put it 
under the paper and make a rubbing you will create a kind of 'seal'. 
Top that with a bold signature and you have got something that 
looks just right. There are so many obstacles in filmmaking, but the 
worst of all is the spirit of bureaucracy. You have to find your own 
way to battle this menace. You have to outsmart it, outnumber it, 
outfilm it. And, moreover, bureaucracy loves nothing more than 
paper. You have to keep feeding it, and even a forgery pleases the 
bureaucrats so long as it is on impressive looking paper. 


In recent years, with the growth of DVD, there has been a trend to 
go back and re-cut films, maybe releasing the so-called "Director's 
Cut'. Is this something you've ever thought about doing? 

No, I have almost always been the producer of my own films and so 
have always had final cut on all my work. Every film of mine you 
have seen has been a director's cut. To speak of out-takes, I have 
none of them. It is too expensive to store things like this - endless 
reels of material from all my films - so six months after the release 
of a film I always throw footage that has not been used in the final 
film into the garbage. This includes both negatives and and printed 
out-takes. A carpenter does not sit on his shavings either. When I 
was in New York during the closing stages of the Fitzcarraldo shoot 
I looked through all the rushes I had and decided what was useful 
and what was not. I just threw out everything I did not want to 
transport back to Germany, which meant a considerable saving in 
freight and customs charges. Just an example: in both Aguirre and 
Kaspar Hauser there was at least an hour of beautiful footage 
which did not make it to my final cut, and all this material is gone. 
I do, of course, have the negatives of the cut films. People speak 
to me with alarm in their voice when they learn that many of them 
are already in decay with the colours fading away, or that for 
example the whole final reel of a film has been ruined by damp or 
something like that. But I never had the money to pay for a safety 
dupe negative on some of them. Originally my feelings about this 
had to do with my belief that film has a shorter shelf-life than 
literature. Decay is a natural phenomenon and to a certain extent 
I feel that celluloid's inevitable deterioration is a natural part of 
what cinema is. Most of the films that have been made in the past 
one hundred years are no longer with us, and much of what is left 
today is only stills. In the future people vrill have to read books like 
Lotte Eisner's The Haunted Screen to find out what films we were 
making at the turn of the millennium: two photos, a description of 
the story, some notes on the director. That is all there is. 
I do appreciate there has been a new attitude developing about 
film preservation and of late I have maybe shifted in my attitude, 
perhaps against my better judgement. I can certainly see the other 
point of view, especially because I am very glad that German films 
from the 1920s, for example, are still in existence. I am happy that 


much of the work of Griffith, Melies and the Lumiere brothers is 
relatively well preserved. My change of heart is due to my fascina- 
tion with many of the films from the early twentieth century, work 
I find of such stunning actuality. It was Henri Langlois who said 
the responsibility existed to preserve even the bad films. After all, 
attitudes and trends shift so radically over time that what is today 
a third-rate B-picture might be heralded a masterpiece tomorrow. 
What's more, when you think about people 400 years from now 
trying to understand civilization today, I think they will probably 
get more out of a Tarzan film than out of the State of the Union 
address by the President that same year. So I have no clear attitude, 
but in recent years I have become more aware of the changing feel- 
ings about film preservation. My brother Lucki, who is also the 
producer of my films, is very methodical in at least collecting for 
our archives all the audio tracks, subtitles and negatives of all the 
films, something that I thank him for. But I am under no illusions: 
my existence on this planet is a very fleeting one and so, perhaps, 
should be the lives of my films. 

But your films are the things that people will be able to remember 
you by. By preserving at least the negatives future generations 
would then be able to watch them 400 years from now. 

I would not dare to predict that. People might watch them, they 
might not. And I would not know how to deal with posterity any- 

You wouldn't need to. You'll be dead. 
Well then, that's fine. 


1 See Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines and Chapter 9, footnote 4. 

2 A book that served as a strong influence on Chatwin, and one that 
Herzog also read, was J. A. Skertchly's Dahomey as It Is: Being a 
Narrative of Eight Months' Residence in that Country (Chapman 
and Hall, 1874). Skertchly was investigating beetles and insects on 
the coast when he was taken captive by the King of Dahomey, who 
wanted him to explain how to work some new rifles he had just 
received, and ended up being kept against his will for eight months. 


3 See Chatwin's essay 'Werner Herzog in Ghana' in What Am I Doing 
Here (Vintage, 1998). 

4 See Brian Titley's Dark Age, The Political Odyssey of Emperor 
Bokassa (McGill-Queen's University Press, 1997). 

5 Ryszard Kapuscinski (b. 1932, Poland) has written many books 
about his travels in Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. He 
has often referred to his work as 'literature by foot', something that 
will resonate strongly with Herzog (see Chapter 9), and when asked 
recently where his sense of vocation comes from, he replied: 'I don't 
know where it came from: my father? My childhood? Or simply 
from seeing these people who have nothing to expect from life. But 
mostly I think I understood that to know anything at all about these 
cultures - in Rwanda, say, or Ethiopia - and to have the gift of 
describing them - you have to have a bit of the zeal, the humility, the 
craziness of the missionary. If you are staying in the Hilton or Shera- 
ton you will never know, you will never write these things.' See his 
recent autobiography. The Shadow of the Sun (Penguin, 2001). 
Kapuscinski also appeared as one of Herzog's guests in Film Lesson. 

6 Brendan Behan (1923-64, Ireland) was a playwright whose works 
include The Quare Fellow (1956) and The Hostage (1958). 

7 Luis Trenker (1882-1980, Italy) worked as a mountain guide in the 
Alps before becoming a leading writer and director. He also played 
opposite Leni Reifenstahl in many of Arnold Fanck's 'mountain 

8 Arnold Fanck (1889-1974, Germany) was a writer, producer and 
director. Inspired by his love of geology and fuelled by his frequent 
trips to the Swiss Alps as a child, Fanck was perhaps the most impor- 
tant director working within the mountain genre. See Thomas 
Elsaesser's Weimar Cinema and After (Routledge, 2000), pp. 391-4- 

9 The Bergfilm | mountain film] was a very popular German genre in 
the 1920s and 1930s. It combined excessive melodrama, patriotism 
and death-defying mountain-top heroism with (because most were 
filmed on location) a documentary style of filmmaking. A good 
example is Das Blaue Licht [The Blue Light] (1932), directed by Bela 
Balazs and Leni Riefenstahl, and starring Riefenstahl. 

10 The Heimatfilm was a wildly successful genre of the immediate post- 
war era. 'Heimatfilme depict a world in which traditional values pre- 
vail: love triumphs over social and economic barriers, and the story is 
usually set in an idyllic German countryside, highlighting maypoles 
and other folkloric traditions.' (Elsaesser and Wedel, p. 133.) 

JiLeni Riefenstahl (b. 1902, Germany) was a leading actress in the 
1930s before becoming a director and photographer. Controversy 
has surrounded Riefenstahl's post-war reputation due to her propa- 
ganda film made for the Nazi party in 1934, Triumph des Willens 


[Triumph of the Will]. See Ray Miiller's 1993 film The Horrible Life 
ofleni Kiefenstahl. 

12 George Melies (1861-1938, France) is generally considered one of 
the great pioneers of cinema. A professional magician by training, he 
built Europe's first film studio in Paris in 1897 and made his most 
famous film. Voyage to the Moon, in 1902. 

13 Philipp" Petit (b. 1949, France) is a magician and high-wire walker. 
On 6 August 1974 he became the first (and subsequently the only) 
person to tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade 
Center in New York. See his books On the High Wire (Random 
House, 1985) and To Reach the Clouds: My High Wire Walk 
Between the Twin Towers (North Point Press, 2002). 

14 Joseph Goebbels (1897-1945, Germany) was the Propaganda 
Minister of the Third Reich. He helped orchestrate Hitler's 1933 
election victory and soon wielded control over all forms of media in 
Germany. Especially interested in film, Goebbels created the Reich 
Chamber of Culture, which in 1935 resulted in the world's first regu- 
lar television service. See Hake's German National Cinema, p. 61. 

15 Bunuel himself described the character of Nazarin (1958) as 'a 
Quixote of the priesthood; instead of following the example found in 
tales of knighthood, he follows the Gospels'. {Objects of Desire: 
Conversations with Luis Bunuel, edited and translated by Paul Lenti, 
Marsilio, 1992.) 


8. Fact and Truth 

In Hollywood there's a strong emphasis on 'story structure' and 
how each 'act' of the film fits into a structure. Do you have any 
time for things like that? 

Not at all. I am just a storyteller who knows if a good story is work- 
ing or is not, and who writes so fast he cannot afford to think about 
the structure of the writing. There is such an urgency of telling the 
tale that inevitably it creates its own structure. Hollywood films 
might have 'structure' to them, but they have scripts that press the 
right buttons at the right time, which is essentially filmmaking by 
numbers. There is a great production and distribution system in 
Hollywood, something we in Europe should be envious of, a great 
star system and special effects facilities too. But you hardly ever find 
a really good story any more, a deficit that is knovm to most of the 
people who work out there. I see the role of the film director as 
being akin to that of a storyteller at the market in Marrakech who 
has a crowd standing around him. This is who I am. 

What was the starting point of your Minnesota Declaration? 

The Minnesota Declaration^ is somewhat tongue-in-cheek and 
designed to provoke, but the ideas it deals with are those that my 
mind has been engaged with over many years, from my earliest 
'documentaries' onwards. After wrestling with these issues - cer- 
tainly since Land of Silence and Darkness - the question has 
become much more intense than ever in the last ten years vdth 
films like Bells from the Deep, Death for Five Voices and Little 
Dieter Needs to Fly. The word 'documentary' should be handled 


with care because we seem to have a very precise definition of 
what the word means. Yet this is only due to our need to easily 
categorize films and the lack of a more appropriate concept for a 
whole range of cinema. Even though they are usually labelled as 
such, 1 would say that it is misleading to call films like Bells from 
the Deep and Death for Five Voices 'documentaries'. They merely 
come under the guise of 'documentaries'. 

The background to the 'Minnesota Declaration: Truth and Fact 
in Documentary Filmmaking' is a very simple one. i had flown 
from Europe to San Francisco and back again in a very short space 
of time and had ended up in Italy, where I was directing an opera. 
Jet-lagged as I was, I could not sleep and turned on the television 
at midnight to be confronted by a very stupid, uninspiring docu- 
mentary, something excruciatingly boring about animals some- 
where out there in the Serengeti, all very cute and fluffy. At z a.m. 
I turned the television on again and watched something equally 
bad, the same kind of crap you find on television wherever you go. 
But then at 4 a.m. I found some hard-core porno, and I sat up and 
said to myself, 'My God, finally something straightforward, some- 
thing real, even if it is purely physical.' For me the porno had real 
naked truth. For some time I had wanted to write some kind of 
manifesto, my thoughts about fact and truth in filmmaking - and 
ecstatic truth - a rant against cinema verite.'" That same night I 
wrote the twelve points in a few minutes. They contain, in a very 
condensed form, everything that has angered and moved me over 
the years. 

Your conclusion about so-called cinema verite documentaries is 
that they don't penetrate into the deeper truth of the situations that 
they portray. This form of cinema is, in your words, merely 'the 
accountant's truth'. 

Cinema, like poetry, is inherently able to present a number of 
dimensions much deeper than the level of the so-called truth that 
we find in cinema verite and even reality itself, and it is these 
dimensions that are the most fertile areas for filmmakers. I truly 
hope to be one of those who finally bury cinema verite for good. 
Thankfully, there seem to be more and more filmmakers - and 
audience members - who understand this. Chris Markers and 


Errol Morris are two names that spring to mind. Cinema verite is 
the accountant's truth; it merely skirts the surface of what consti- 
tutes a deeper form of truth in cinema. 

When you have an idea for a story, do you immediately know 
whether it is going to be a feature or a 'documentary'? 

I do not sit and ponder whether I should articulate the story in one 
way or another. The next few films I will make are all features. 
Why? I do not know, this is just how it is. I do know the media 
have never picked up on the 'documentaries' as much as the other 
films, but I could not care less, i just do the things that are urgent 
to me. So for me, the boundary between fiction and 'documentary' 
simply does not exist; they are all just films. Both take 'facts', 
characters, stories and play with them in the same kind of way. I 
actually consider Fitzcarraldo my best 'documentary'. So I fight 
against cinema verite because it reaches only the most banal level 
of understanding of everything around us. I know that by making 
a clear distinction between 'fact' and 'truth' in my films, I am able 
to penetrate into a deeper stratum of truth most films do not even 
notice. The deep inner truth inherent in cinema can be discovered 
only by not being bureaucratically, politically and mathematically 
correct. In other words, I start to invent and play with the 'facts' 
as we know them. Through invention, through imagination, 
through fabrication, I become more truthful than the little bureau- 
crats. This is an idea that will become clearer when we discuss 
some of the later films like Bells from the Deep and Lessons of 

Land of Silence and Darkness seems an important film in this 
respect because it marks the start of your 'investigations' into 
'truth' and 'fact' in cinema. 

Yes, though I suspect at the time it was probably not so conscious 
but more a kind of instinctive attitude I had. The line that is 
quoted at the end of that film - 'If a world war were to break out 
now, I would not even notice it' - is not something that Fini ever 
said. This is something I wrote that I felt encapsulated, in only a 
few words, how someone like her might experience the world. And 
the lines at the start of the film when Fini speaks about the ecstatic 


faces of the ski-flyers whom she says she used to watch as a child 
are also written by me. It is all pure invention. She had actually 
never even seen a ski-jumper, and I just asked her to say the lines 
that I wrote. Why? Because I felt that the solitude and ecstasy of 
the ski-jumpers as they flew through the air was a great image to 
represent Fini's own inner state of mind and solitude. Of course, 
when making the film no scenes were shot contrary to Fini's wishes 
and she did not mind speaking the lines that I had written for her. 
The wonderful thing about her was that she never argued about it; 
she immediately understood and squeezed my hand. Sometimes 
she would say that she understood in a very strange way, almost 
like an Egyptian priest: 'I. . . have . . . understood . . . you.' 
In my 'documentaries' I have constantly explored the intensified 
truths of the situations that I have found myself in and of the char- 
acters I have met, whether it be abused people who lose their 
speech in Lessons of Darkness or the chain-smoking African 
chimp of Echoes from a Sombre Empire. It is permissible to stylize 
certain parts of a film only if the subject is co-operative, and so 
with my film about my work with Kinski, My Best Fiend, I felt 
that such an approach would not be healthy. Not being around 
to defend himself, the facts about Kinski had to be presented as 
coherently as possible and a very clear concept had to be main- 
tained, even though, the film was undeniably from my own per- 

And now you seem to be doing this by playing with the facts sur- 
rounding a real-life character in your latest feature film. 

What I did with Invincible is a good example of how I used these 
ideas and applied them to a feature film. I looked at the facts about 
the life of the Polish blacksmith Zishe Breitbart in the 1920s and 
realized - though there was clearly a story there - much of it did 
not interest me. I knew I had to reinvent Zishe for the film and 
transplant the character to the early 1930s because everything that 
is fascinating about the relationship between Germans and Jews 
was exacerbated in that era and, of course, turned into the most 
monstrous crime and tragedy afterwards. The 'truth' about Zishe's 
life is brought much more to life when we are able to see his story 
through the lens of 1930s Germany. 


But this isn't an approach that you use for every single one of your 
'documentaries', is it? And even when you do, it is done with 
extreme subtlety. 

Even in a film like Ballad of the Little Soldier, perhaps my most 
political film, you can see signs of these ideas. I could have made a 
straightforward study of the political situation down there and 
called it The Children's War Against the Sandinistas. But I called it 
Ballad of the Little Soldier for a reason: for a long time I have 
wanted to make a musical. I have hours of footage of the villagers 
and the soldiers singing and maybe one day will edit it together to 
produce a real oratorio. The existing film is my compromise, as I 
very much wanted to tell the story of the child soldiers who were 
dying in Nicaragua every day. 

But the stylizations of truth in the 'documentary' films are gen- 
erally very subtle indeed. You probably would not know about 
most of them unless you were paying close attention to the films, 
and even then you might need to have some background to the 
subject matter. A good example is the last scene of Echoes from a 
Sombre Empire. In the decrepit zoo we found one of the saddest 
things I have ever seen: a monkey addicted to cigarettes thanks to 
the drunken soldiers who had taught it to smoke. Michael Gold- 
smith looks at the ape and says something like, 'I can't take this 
any longer' and tells me I should turn the camera off. I answer 
back from behind the camera, 'Michael, I think this is one of the 
shots I should hold.' He replies, 'Only if you promise this will be 
the last shot in the film.' While this dialogue and my use of the ani- 
mal was a completely scripted invention, the nicotine-addicted 
monkey itself was not. There was something momentous and mys- 
terious about the creature, and filming it in the way I did brought 
the film to a deeper level of truth, even if I did not stick entirely to 
the facts. To call Echoes from a Sombre Empire a 'documentary' is 
like saying that Warhol's painting of Campbell's soup cans is a 
document about tomato soup. 

I would like to point out also the opening quote from Blaise 
Pascal at the start of Lessons of Darkness. 'The collapse of the stel- 
lar universe will occur - like creation - in grandiose splendour.' 
Well, it may sound like Pascal, but actually it is all invented. I enjoy 
doing things like this because I am a stor3^eller, plain and simple, 


not a traditional 'documentary' filmmaker. In Little Dieter Needs 
to Fly I open the film with a quote from Revelation - 'And in those 
days shall men seek death, and shall not find it, and death shall flee 
from them' - and then show a regular guy walking into a down- 
town tattoo parlour. With this quote you are immediately prepared 
for something almost otherworldly when the film starts. You just 
do not expect to see a kind of seedy tattoo parlour after the Bible 
has just been quoted to you. 

What the Pascalian pseudo-quote does is lift you from the first 
minute of the film to a level that prepares you for something quite 
momentous. We are immediately in the realm of poetry - whether 
or not the audience knows the quote is a fake - which inevitably 
strikes a more profound chord than mere reportage. With Pascal 
you are immersed in the cosmic even before the first picture 
appears on the screen, and Lessons of Darkness never lets you 
down until its last frame. It holds you up there without shame, 
something I do with real pride and with the confidence that I am 
nor manipulating the audience in any way. Pascal himself could 
not have written it better! After the quote the film continues with 
the voice-over talking of 'Wide mountain ranges, the valleys 
enshrouded in mist.' What I actually filmed were little heaps of 
dust and soil created by the tires of trucks. These 'mountain 
ranges' were no more than a foot high. 

I keep telling young people who always ask with hesitation in 
their voice about history and concoction and invention that this is 
what cinema is about. 

Lessons of Darkness was made very soon after the Gulf War. How 
did audiences react to seeing in cinemas the images of the oil fires 
that they'd been watching on television for months? 

Lessons of Darkness was very well received in America. It was 
interesting to see the reaction to the film there because the whole 
country - and the whole world in fact - had repeatedly watched 
the same kind of images of the burning oil wells in Kuwait on 
CNN during and after the war. But these images saturated the 
public's consciousness only via news broadcasts and made very 
little impact because of their tabloid style. We have all watched so 
many horrific things on the news that we have become totally - 


Lessons of Darkness 


and dangerously - inured to them. When it came to these spectac- 
ular fields of burning oil, everyone seemed to forget them the very 
next day. Yet to look at the surface of pitch-black oil is to see what 
looks like a vast serene lake reflecting the blue sky and the clouds. 
It is very strange, and I knew I was watching something momen- 
tous that had to be recorded for the memory of mankind. 
The stylization of the horror in Lessons of Darkness means that 
the images penetrate deeper than the CNN footage ever could, 
something that bothered audiences in Germany a great deal. When 
Lessons of Darkness was shown at the Berlin Film Festival, with 
one voice nearly 2,000 people rose up in an angry roar against me. 
They accused me of 'aestheticizing' the horror and hated the film 
so much that when I walked down the aisle of the cinema I was 
spat at. They said the film was dangerously authoritarian, so I 
decided to be authoritarian at my very best. I stood before them 
and said, 'Mr Dante did the same in his inferno and Mr Goya did 
it in his paintings, and Brueghel and Bosch too.' You should have 
heard the uproar. The German critics took the film as if it were a 
dangerous attack on everyone's decency. Everyone else liked the 
film very much and it received tremendous reviews around the 
world. Sitting here now ten years later I would dare an assump- 
tion: if I showed the film today to an audience at the Berlin Film 
Festival they would probably like it. 

Was it a particular conceptual decision you made to use the scenes 
of the burning oil wells with the abused Kuwaitis? 

I made contact with various organizations who were documenting 
torture victims and through them got in touch with the people I 
filmed. They had lost their ability to speak because of the atrocities 
they had witnessed. I feel that there is actually a slight imbalance 
to the film because there were some other people I wanted to film, 
but the Kuwaiti government basically expelled me. The authorities 
were constantly scrutinizing what I was doing there. From the start 
they hoped I would make a film that would show the positive, 
optimistic reconstruction of everything with the cleaning up of 
the oil wells and an apparently heroic fresh new start. They had 
objections against me going into the deepest wounds that the war 
had created for some of the people. One afternoon I was handed a 


letter by the Ministry of Information which quite simply stated I 
was wished a pleasant flight out of the country tomorrow morning 
at 7 a.m. It was clear this was an expulsion order. If I had insisted 
on continuing filming they would have confiscated my footage, so 
I was prudent enough to wrap up my things and go instantly. It 
seemed the world the Kuwaitis wanted to portray on film consisted 
only of the fires and the heroic firemen, not the scarred victims. I 
wdsh I had been able to put more human beings in Lessons of 
Darkness, yet it still has something very humane about it. Not only 
where you see human beings; you see it everjrwhere. Every single 
shot somehow. 

Did the bureaucrats criticize you for not identifying Kuwait? 

They did indeed, but of course I did that on purpose. There was 
just no need to name Saddam Hussein and the country he 
attacked. And you know, even if people are watching Lessons of 
Darkness in 300 years' time, it still would not be important for 
them to know the historical facts behind this film. Lessons of 
Darkness transcends the topical and the particular. This could be 
any war and any country. The criticisms of the film in Germany 
come down to this: if you do not make a black-and-white political 
statement you are on the side of the devils, a point of view that is 
clearly overly simplistic and stupid. But at the end of the day all 
this good and bad dissipates into thin air, and thankfully only the 
films remain. Films have their own lives and their own ways to 
travel straight to the hearts of audiences. An3m'ay, everyone 
knew that it was Kuwait because, as you said, the war was still in 
people's minds. 

I should stress that Lessons of Darkness is as much a film by 
Paul Berriff as it is mine. It was a very fortunate collaboration. 
There was the danger of two cooks preparing one meal, but in this 
case Paul was a man of such calibre that our collaboration 
worked very well. The result is something very special, and ulti- 
mately I owe this film to him. I knew after watching CNN that 1 
wanted to go out to Kuwait and luckily I found Paul Berriff by 
searching for someone - anyone - with a shooting permit for 
Kuwait. The oil fires were being extinguished unexpectedly fast so 
I had to hurry. 


Berriff is English and has made a lot of very physically daring 
films, like sea rescues by helicopter with him dangling from a cable 
and things like that. A courageous man, very physical in his meth- 
ods of seeing and creating images. He has a really physical curios- 
ity. Paul already had an expert helicopter pilot he wanted to work 
with, and for a project like this a good pilot is as important as a 
cinematographer. He had to understand the terrain and air flows 
around the burning oil wells and establish a pattern of flight to 
facilitate a sequence of travelling shots. I was never actually in the 
helicopter; the footage was shot two days before I arrived in the 
country. The cameraman, an expert in aerial photography, knew 
what I wanted: as many unbroken travelling shots of the landscape 
as possible. But I would not have been able to plan every single one 
of the shots even if I had been up there. The pilot would not have 
been able to just follow my directions all the time because if he had 
flown into an area where the heat might be suddenly blown 
towards it, the helicopter would immediately explode. Up there 
the temperatures reached over a 1,000 °C. So in flying into a 
burning oil field the pilot has to make his own choices for safety 
reasons. He did an outstanding job and allowed the cameramen to 
hold the shots for as long as he possibly could. 

Who are the firefighters on the ground? Is that Red Adair and his 

No, Red Adair had already quit at that point. Initially, I was 
advised to make a film about him and his efforts to put out the 
fires, but his working methods involved the heaviest imaginable 
machinery with every precaution in the book. He predicted it 
would take four or five years to put out these fires, which it cer- 
tainly would have done if Adair had gone his own way. As I said, 
it was actually done within about six months, though the crews 
who did extinguish the fires were running much higher risks of 
course. The men in the film are, I think, an American or Canadian 
team. There were also Iranians, Hungarians, teams from all over 
the world. The Iranians were the most impressive because they did 
not have much equipment and they fought the fires almost with 
bare hands. Everyone who worked with these men spoke of them 
with great respect. 


what kind of cameras did you use? 

We used regular cameras, and the crew had only nomex suits for 
protection, the kind of suits Formula One race drivers wear. What 
was not well protected were hands and shoes, and our soles would 
melt away quite quickly if we were not careful. One time Paul 
Berriff jumped from behind our barricade to get a shot and imme- 
diately I could see that the half of his face not protected by the 
camera was reddening and getting burnt. I held my two hands with 
thick leather gloves on to try to protect his face, and within ten 
seconds my gloves were burning. We were recording all the sound 
live and one of the boom microphones just melted away. In fact, to 
really appreciate the film you have to see it in the cinema with 
Dolby stereo because for me the sound was actually the most 
impressive thing. These geysers of fire shooting 300 feet up into the 
sky with such pressure sounds like four jumbo jets taking off 
simultaneously. It really was quite something. 

One of the reasons my collaboration with Paul worked so well 
was because of this understanding of hearts we had, something 
that became obvious when we both decided we did not want to use 
long zoom lenses when filming on the ground. This meant that if 
something interested us we decided to go as far in as possible and 
were right there with the firefighters themselves. Paul did the cam- 
erawork, though there was a second cameraman sometimes, and 
we shot it all on film, nothing was on video. Sometimes this was a 
problem because raw stock has to be acclimatized to wherever you 
are shooting, and it was exceptionally hot in Kuwait that summer. 
So we could not just take the film out of the refrigerator and then 
expose it in the camera, and when it came to the shots of the oil 
wells we had to protect the film with aluminium foil and take it out 
of the camera as soon as we had finished the roll to get it away 
from the heat. Thankfully we never lost any of the footage. 

You've said that Lessons of Darkness, like Fata Morgana, is a 
science-fiction film. What do you mean by this? 

Calling Lessons of Darkness a science-fiction film is a way of 
explaining that the film has not a single frame that can be recog- 
nized as our planet, and yet we know it must have been shot here. 
I spoke earlier of our 'embarrassed landscapes'. Well, the land- 


scape you see in Lessons of Darkness is not just embarrassed, it is 
completely mutilated. The film plays out as if the entire planet is 
burning away, and because there is music throughout the film, I 
call it 'a requiem for an uninhabitable planet'. Unlike La Soufriere, 
which tries to document a natural catastrophe, Lessons of Dark- 
ness is a requiem for a planet that we ourselves have destroyed. 
The film progresses as if aliens have landed on an unnamed planet 
where the landscape has lost every single trace of its dignity, and 
- just like in Fata Morgana with the debris-strewn desert land- 
scapes - these aliens see human beings for the first time. There is a 
line I speak in the voice-over when one of the firemen signals some- 
thing: The first creature we encountered tried to communicate 
something to us.' 

You become quite explicit about this idea when showing the shot 
of the firefighter lighting up a plume of gushing oil. 

The voice-over says something like, 'Seized by madness, they 
reignite the flames because they cannot imagine a life without fire, 
and now there is something to extinguish they are happy again.' 
There was actually a practical reason for igniting the flame 
because in this case the gush of oil had created a lake which was 
approaching other burning fires, and had the oil been ignited by 
other fires there would have been an even bigger problem. I asked 
them to let me know when they were going to reignite the flame so 
I could be there with a camera. I am a storyteller, and I used the 
voice-over to place the film - and the audience - in a darkened 
planet somewhere in our solar system. 

The ideas of fact and truth' you started exploring in Land of 
Silence and Darkness have of late been taken to the reductio ad 
absurdum with films like Death for Five Voices and Bells from the 
Deep: Faith and Superstition in Russia. How did you hear about 
this array of bizarre characters out there in Siberia? 

Oh, I find them. I engaged some Russian collaborators and told 
them to scour Siberia for the best Jesus Christ they could find and 
eventually they came up with Vissarion. He is an ex-policeman 
who all of a sudden realized that he was, in fact, Jesus. There were 
about a no competing Jesus figures roaming Siberia at that time, 


Bells from the Deep 


and Vissarion actually had an agent in Moscow. But this did not 
turn me away from him because I had the feeling that he truly was 
someone very special with great depth, and he lived a very ascetic 
life in a tiny apartment in BCrasnojarsk in Siberia. The faith healer 
in the film, Alan Chumack, used to be a very well-known media 
figure on Russian television where he would re-enact alien abduc- 
tions and things like that. One day, after discovering he was so 
popular with mass audiences, he decided he had psychic powers 
himself, something which has made him ten times more money 
than his television work. 

What about Yuri Yurevitch Yurieff, the orphaned bell ringer who 
used to be a cinema projectionist? 

An incredible man, yes. When he was found as a child and was 
asked what his name was - first name, middle name and family 
name - all he would say was "Yuri'. For me the man is a true 
musician; the way he has strung up all the ropes in the bell tower 
is incredible. The sound he gets from tolling the bells has such 
depth to it. I actually planned to start the film at a monastery with 
one single monk playing one single bell and wanted to show bigger 
and bigger bell-ringing orgies throughout, and Yuri would have 
been somewhere in the middle, i also spent some time looking for 
a hermit. Of course, it is not very productive advertising for her- 
mits but I did eventually find one. Actually, he was not a textbook 
hermit, rather someone condemned to life in prison for murder in 
a huge prison colony near St Petersburg. Within the huge com- 
pound next to the soccer field, he had built himself a small 
monastery and lived a monastic life. I looked so hard for a genuine 
hermit and had so many knowledgeable people engaged in this 
search that I do not believe there are any left. Very few anyway, 
and very well hidden at that. 

So what part of the film is made up? Are some of the characters 

When it comes to 'fact and truth', I admit that the best of the film 
is 'fabricated'. The film begins in the Tuvinian Autonomous 
Republic, just north-west of Mongolia. An old man is throat 
singing about the beauty of a mountain. Later in the film there are 


two young kids - one is twelve, the other is fourteen - and they 
sing a love song. What does that have to do with a film about faith, 
you might ask? And yet it does belong; just by dint of declaration 
this becomes a religious hymn. Later on we see what seems to be 
people deep in prayer. We were en route to one of the locations 
when I stopped the bus because I saw a frozen lake in the distance 
with hundreds of people on it who had drilled holes in the ice and 
were fishing. As it was so cold they were all crouching down with 
their backs against the wind, all facing the same direction as if they 
were all in deep meditation. So the film somehow declares them all 
pilgrims in prayer. 

When you look at a film like Bells from the Deep you are not 
watching a film that in any way strives to report facts about Rus- 
sia, like an explicitly ethnographic documentary might do. This 
sounds like someone who reads a poem by Holderlin where he 
describes a storm in the alps claiming, 'Ah, here we have a weather 
report back in 1802.' 

Is the legend of the Lost City of Kitezh real or a figment of your 

I heard of the myth while I was out there. It is a very real belief 
these people have. The legend goes that the city was systematically 
ransacked and demolished by hundreds of years of Tartar and Hun 
invasions. The inhabitants called on God to redeem them and He 
sent an archangel, who tossed the city into a bottomless lake where 
the people live in bliss, chanting their hymns and tolling the bells. 
During the summer you find pilgrims on their knees crawling 
around the lake saying their prayers, though I was there in winter 
when there was a very thin layer of ice covering the lake. I wanted 
to get shots of pilgrims crawling around on the ice trying to catch 
a glimpse of the lost city, but as there were no pilgrims around I 
hired two drunks from the next town and put them on the ice. One 
of them has his face right on the ice and looks like he is in very 
deep meditation. The accountant's truth: he was completely drunk 
and fell asleep, and we had to wake him at the end of the take. 

What do you say to those who feel this kind of filmmaking is 


It might seem like cheating, but it is not. Bells from the Deep is one 
of the most pronounced examples of what I mean when I say that 
only through invention and fabrication and staging can you reach 
a more intense level of truth that cannot otherwise be found. I took 
a 'fact' - that for many people this lake was the final resting place 
of this lost city - and played with the 'truth' of the situation to 
reach a more poetic understanding. We react with much stronger 
fervour and passion to poetry than mere television reportage, and 
that is the reason why Lessons of Darkness struck such a chord. 
We have known for a long time the poet is able to articulate a deep, 
inherent, mysterious truth better than anyone else. But for some 
reason filmmakers - particularly those who deal in the accoun- 
tant's truth - are unaware of this as they continue trading their 
out-of-date wares. 

Is what we see in Bells from the Deep in any way representative of 
the general attitudes and feelings in Russia today? 

There is something very profound about Russians. I am married to 
a Russian from Siberia and many of these people have truly ecstatic 
depths to them when it comes to beliefs and superstitions. I feel the 
borderline between faith and superstition is very blurred for them. 
The question is: how do you depict the soul of an entire nation in 
an hour-long film? In a way, the scene of the drunken city-seekers is 
the deepest truth you can have about Russia because the soul of the 
entire country is somehow secretly in search of the lost city of 
Kitezh. I think the scene explains the fate and soul of Russia more 
than anything else, and those who know about Russia best, Rus- 
sians themselves, think this sequence is the best one in the whole 
film. Even when I tell them it was not real pilgrims out there on the 
ice, it was people whom I hired, they still love it, and understand 
the scene has captured some kind of ecstatic truth. 

Let's talk about your career as an opera director. Around this 
time you made your film at the Bayreuth Wagner Festival, The 
Transformation of the World into Music. You'd been directing 
opera around the world for some time before you made the film. 
Was it an attempt to summarize on film your ideas about this side- 
profession you've found for yourself? 


In 1987 I directed Lohengrin at BayTeuth,4 which ran for seven 
consecutive years until 1994, when I made The Transformation of 
the World into Music. You have to see the film in the right context 
as it is a piece that serves a very clear purpose. Over the previous 
few years operas staged in Bayreuth were being recorded for 
transmission on the French/German station Arte. They wanted an 
introductory piece and asked me to make a film about the festival. 
Initially they suggested a very dubious approach, something like 
'The Myth of Bayreuth'. I said no, but they accepted my proposal 
to focus on the workshop aspect of the festival. I explained that the 
best time to shoot would be right now because it was the last yeat 
I was working there restaging Lohengrin. Working there meant it 
would be relatively easy to talk with colleagues and musicians and 
singers whom I would see every day anyway. 

Why this desire to start directing opera in the 1980s? 

I never had any aspirations to stage opera. I was literally dragged 
into it. After much hesitation I was persuaded to visit the opera 
house in Bologna, and all of a sudden I found myself surrounded 
by about forty stagehands, electricians and other personnel who 
formed a solid circle of bodies. They just physically held on to me 
and declared they would not let me leave unless I would sign a con- 
tract. I love the Italians for their gift of physical enthusiasm. So I 
had no choice and staged Doctor Vaustus by Ferruccio Busoni in 
1986. I immediately felt very confident and safe in what I was 
doing. What was so important was that I was appreciated with an 
immediacy and enthusiasm by others, something I have never 
experienced with my films. Opera has brought me joy and inner 
balance, even though I am also the first to admit that when I 
started I really did not know what opera was supposed to look 
like, how it truly functions' up there on the stage. 

I never do any research. Before I started work on Lohengrin, an 
assistant handed me a huge pile of literature and opera theory, 
none of which I read. Apart from my own productions I have 
watched maybe four or five operas in my entire life, though I have 
listened to recordings of many productions. I know nothing about 
the different stylistic approaches to opera, I just seize upon what I 
see when I listen to the music. Today hardly anyone believes me 


when I tell them that the first production I ever saw was at La Scala 
in Milan two years after the filming of Fitzcarraldo, a film that of 
course is in part about opera. 

But the key to my opera work is my love of the music. When I 
heard Wagner's Parsifal for the first time in Bayreuth during a 
rehearsal, the auditorium was almost empty. There is a moment 
when for twenty minutes Kundry is Ijdng on the ground, some- 
what hidden. She looks like a piece of the rock formation, and then 
suddenly she rises up and screams. It was such a shock for me, 
with my knees propped up against the seats in front of me, that I 
was jolted violently and ripped this entire row of seats from its 
anchoring. Along with Wolfgang Wagner, the grandson of Richard 
Wagner, I tumbled backwards. Wagner got to his feet and rushed 
over to me. Bowing, he took my hand and shook and said some- 
thing like, 'Finally, an audience who knows how to really respond 
to the music!' It was like being struck by lightning. Beautiful. 

You said that music is the most important influence for you when 
it comes to your films. Does this include opera? 

Music has always been very important to me. Audiences surely do 
not need me to explain this; they are able to understand just by 
listening to my films. When you watch Fata Morgana and Pilgrim- 
age, my use of music is very obvious. And even though it has lots 
of dialogue I feel that The Great Ecstasy of Woodcaruer Steiner is 
also one of these. I have always felt that there are very few film 
directors who truly understand what is possible with music in cin- 
ema. Two names that spring to mind when I think of masters of 
film music are Satyajit Ray, the wonderful Indian director, particu- 
larly The Music Room, and the Taviani brothers from Italy. I doff 
my hat to them. They are so incredibly lucid in their use of music 
they make me ashamed, particularly their film Padre Padrone, 
where the music suddenly starts up and builds until it makes an 
entire landscape appear as if it were in mourning. 

It seems that it was with Fata Morgana that you really started to 
work intensively with music. Throughout the film the music seems 
to fit so well to the images, even though there is such a wide selec- 
tion of different composers, from Leonard Cohen to Mozart. 


An image does not change per se when you place music behind it, 
but with Fata Morgana I found that there were certain qualities and 
atmospheres in the images that could be seen more clearly when 
there was certain music playing. The music changes the perspective 
of the audience; they see things and experience emotions that were 
not there before. Of course this can also work the other way 
around: if you choose the right images, a piece of music we think 
we understand can be utterly transformed and resonate with com- 
pletely new meaning. With Fata Morgana, in particular, there does 
sometimes seem to be a contradiction between what you see and 
what you hear, but for me this actually creates a kind of tension that 
makes many things transparent that otherwise would not be so. 

What about your working relationship with Florian Fricke, the 
man behind the cult German band Popul Vuh. 

It is a very bitter loss for me that Florian Fricke has recently died. 
Kinski was 'my best fiend', but Florian was 'my best friend' when 
it came to my films. He appears as the pianist in Signs of Life and 
Kaspar Hauser, and did the music for many of my films including 
The Great Ecstasy, Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu and Heart of Glass. 
Florian was always able to create music I feel helps audiences visu- 
alize something hidden in the images on screen, and in our own 
souls too. In Aguirre I wanted a choir that would sound out of this 
world, like when I would walk at night as a child, thinking that the 
stars were singing, so Florian used a very strange instrument called 
a 'choir-organ'. It would sound just like a human choir but yet, at 
the same time, had a very artificial and eerie quality to it. Florian 
was always full of ideas like this. 

And what about the sound design in your films, something that 
again seems very important. 

One thing that I realized very early on, practically in my very first 
film, was the importance of sound quality if a film was to succeed. 
I have often seen young filmmakers who when they finally manage 
to make their first film - when they finally overcome the problems 
of finance and organization and all the rest - frequently fail with 
their use of sound. It is because of this that I have spent some time 
concentrating on how sound functions in cinema. Almost all my 


films have been shot in direct sound, which means it takes more 
time and energy to prepare. Often it takes more time preparing the 
sound than setting up the shot and determining where the camera 
will move. But it is sound that will decide the outcome of many 
battles on a film set. Good sound adds dimensions to a film that 
you never ever knew existed. Someone like Bresson was very 
aware of this, and in each of his films he gives us so many silences, 
yet every one different and full of noise. Compare his subtlety with 
a film like Apocalypse Now, where the sound is not handled well 
conceptually and where the sledgehammer effects are constantly 
hitting you over the head. It is like watching very early colour 
films which have absurdly bright primary colours screaming out at 

Would you ever make a narrative feature without any dialogue? 

Isn't that what I did with Fata Morgana? For me storytelling has 
to do with human speech, and relationships between humans are 
established primarily through speech, so I would certainly hesitate 
before making a wholly silent film without dialogue and even 
music. I do not see Pilgrimage as a silent film because the music is 
inextricably bound up in the images. The only form I immediately 
see would work without any dialogue and music would be a 
porno where you would only need the gasps and the shrieks and 

Can you read music? 

I must be one of the few opera directors who cannot read music 
scores. This is due to one of those little childhood school 
tragedies when I was thirteen. The music teacher asked every- 
body in alphabetical order to stand up and sing a song. The 
whole thing had an ideology behind it: at that time there were 
these ideas floating around that everyone is an artist and has 
innate musical talent, whether he sings well or not. When it came 
to the letter H, I was asked to stand up. I am not going to sing,' 
I told him. The thing immediately turned nasty, and bold as I was 
at that age I said, 'Sir, you may do a somersault forward and 
backward, you may run up the walls and on to the ceiling. I . . . 
am . . . not. . . going . . . to . . . sing.' This pissed him off so much 


that he brought in the headmaster, and in front of the whole class, 
while I was standing there, they discussed whether I should be 
thrown out of the school altogether. It was that serious, but I 
remained stubborn. Then what they did was really bad: they took 
the whole class hostage. 'Nobody is going to leave until Herzog 
sings.' All my friends started to push me, saying, 'Don't worry, we 
will not listen to you, we just want to go outside during the 
break.' And the headmaster interrupted and said, 'There is no 
break for you if Herzog does not sing.' But I stood my ground, 
knowing that they just wanted to break my back. After forty min- 
utes, for the sake of my classmates, I sang. And while I sang I 
knew I would never, ever sing in my life again. And I have not 
until this very day, nor have I sat down and learned how to read 
musical scores. Truly, it pains me to think back about this inci- 
dent, and at the time I told myself, 'No man, ever, will break me 
again. It will not happen, no matter what.' So I continued in 
school, but during music classes I became completely autistic. I 
would not listen; I was on a different planet. Between the ages of 
thirteen and eighteen no music existed for me. 

When I left school I sensed this huge void and voraciously dug into 
music without any guidance at all. I started with Heinrich Schiitz, 
some kind of point of reference to me, and from there into earlier 
music. Only very much later did I start listening to Wagner and more 
contemporary composers. Then, of course, there was Gesualdo's 
Sixth Book of Madrigals. That was a moment of complete enlight- 
enment for me. I was so excited I called up Florian Fricke at three in 
the morning and did not stop raving about it. Finally, after half an 
hour, he said, 'Werner, everyone who is into music knows about 
Gesualdo and the Sixth Book. You sound as if you have discovered a 
new planet.' But for me it was as if I had discovered something 
tremendous within our solar system, and out of that sprung a film 
about Gesualdo which i carried within me for many years. 
I became fascinated by Wagner relatively late. Wolfgang Wagner 
sent me a telegram asking me to direct Lohengrin. I immediately 
replied, answering his request with a single word: 'No.' Wagner 
kept on insisting, and I kept on saying no. Finally, after weeks, he 
became suspicious and finally asked whether I had even heard the 
opera. I said, 'No.' So he asked, 'Would you please listen to my 
favourite recording that I am going to send you? Then, if your 


answer is still no, I will never bother you again.' This I did, and 
when I heard the Vorspiel - the overture - I was totally stunned. 
Hearing it for the first time was a moment of complete illumination 
for me; it was a deep and beautiful shock and I knew this was some- 
thing very big. And I had the feeling, 'I should have the courage to 
tackle this one,' so I immediately accepted his offer to direct at 
Ba5rreuth. And I said to Wagner, 'Let's just do the overture - musi- 
cally it contains the entire opera - and keep the curtain closed. And 
when people start to make noise and demand the opera, we will 
play it again and again until we chase them out of the theatre.' 
Wagner, I think, started to like me. 

What do you mean when you talk of 'transforming a whole world 
into music'? 

I consider opera a universe all its own. On stage an opera repre- 
sents a complete world, a cosmos transformed into music. I love 
the gross stylizations of the performances and the grandeur of 
human emotions, whether they be love or hate or jealousy or guilt. 
I often ask myself do we humans really recognize these archetypes 
of emotional exaltation and purity that are being enacted on the 
opera stage? Of course we do, this is what makes opera so beauti- 
ful even though the stories being told are often so implausible. 
Emotions in opera are almost like mathematical axioms: extremely 
reduced and concentrated. It matters little that most of the libretti 
are bad, or like in the case of Giovanna d'Arco, a true catastrophe. 
In fact, so many of the opera plots are not even within the calculus 
of probability; it would be like winning the lottery jackpot five 
consecutive times over. And yet, when the music is playing, the 
stories do make sense. Their strong inner truths shine through and 
they seem utterly plausible. 

When I was first asked to direct opera it seemed a strange 
request, but after thinking about it I realized that it was something 
not foreign to me. 'Why should I not try at least once in my life to 
transform everything into music, every action, every word?' As I 
have explained throughout our conversations, since my very earli- 
est days as a filmmaker I have to a certain degree worked in a 
similar way by transforming things that are physically there into 
more intensified, elevated and stylized images. 


Do opera and cinema work well together? 

Film is about transforming a world into images, and is very differ- 
ent from opera where the veracity of facts does not seem to matter 
any longer and where suddenly everything is possible. Film and 
opera are like cats and dogs; they will never marry, and this is the 
reason why some very able directors have failed when trjdng to 
film operas in original settings. 

Are you as fast at directing opera as you are at writing and direct- 
ing your own film scripts? And unlike with your films, do you 
rehearse a great deal? 

I am relatively quick at the job, yes. In less than a week i move 
through the entire opera, every scene, and try to locate the big 
questions quickly. And just as I do not like to over-rehearse scenes 
before I shoot them, I dislike rehearsing opera too much, otherwise 
it gets very stale. As an opera director at Ba3Teuth and other places, 
it is important for me to forget I am principally a filmmaker. I wipe 
it from my mind. Opera is such a different process; the director 
needs to be aware of what the stage looks like from every possible 
angle in the auditorium. If a singer takes a step to the right the 
whole right side of the house cannot see her any more. I am aware 
there are a hundred different angles for the spectators, but with a 
camera there is only one position at a time. Emotions flow very dif- 
ferently in opera, and so does the flow of time. 

Am I right in thinking that with Death for Five Voices many of the 
scenes are again subtly stylized? 

Subtly stylized? No, in this case they are complete fabrications. 
Most of the stories in the film are completely invented and staged, 
yet they contain the most profound possible truths about Gesu- 
aldo. I think of all my 'documentaries'. Death for Five Voices is the 
one that really runs amok, and it is one of the films closest to my 

It tells the story of Carlo Gesualdo, the sixteenth-century musi- 
cal visionary and Prince of Venosa.s Gesualdo is the composer who 
keeps stunning me more than anyone else, and I wanted to make a 
film about him because his life is almost as interesting as his music. 


For a start he murdered his wife, and as he was the Prince of 
Venosa he was never financially dependent on anyone and was able 
to finance his own voyages into the musical unknown. The other 
books are more within the context of his time, but with his Sixth 
Book of Madrigals all of a sudden Gesualdo seems to step 400 
years ahead of his time, composing music that we hear only from 
Stravinsky onwards. There are segments in Death for Five Voices 
when we hear each of the five voices of a madrigal individually. 
Each individual voice sounds perfectly normal, but in combination 
the music sounds so ahead of its time, even of our own time. 

So for Death for Five Voices you took the most basic facts about 
Gesualdo and illustrated them with stylized scenes that would 
reinforce the major elements of the story? 

Yes. Take, for example, the scene shot in the castle of Venosa 
where there is a museum. In one of the glass showcases there was 
one piece - a clay disc with enigmatic script-like symbols on it - 
that really engaged my mind with puzzlement and gave me sleep- 
less nights. I very much wanted to use the object in the film, so I 
wrote for the director of the museum - in actuality the dean of 
Milano Law School - a monologue about the disc that he should 
speak whilst standing next to the showcase. He presents a letter 
from Gesualdo to his alchemist, enlisting his aid in deciphering the 
mysterious signs on the disc. 'The prince had spent sleepless nights 
trjdng to unravel the secret of these strange symbols,' the professor 
explains. 'In the course of this activity, he became lost in a 
labjrinth of conjectures and hypotheses. He almost lost his reason 
in the process.' What I wanted here was to play on the fact that in 
the final years of his life Gesualdo was basically mad; he really did 
lose his mind. He single-handedly chopped down the entire forest 
around his castle and hired young men who had the task of flog- 
ging him daily, something that gave him festering wounds and 
apparently killed him. There is also a scene when we meet a 
woman running around the Prince's decrepit castle singing his 
music who says she is the spirit of Gesualdo's dead wife. She is 
there to stress the profound effect Gesualdo's music has had on 
people over the centuries, though we hired Milva, a famous Italian 
actress and singer to play the part. 


Death for Five Voices 
And what about the story ofGesualdo killing his own son? 

I invented the story of Gesualdo placing his two-and-a-half-year- 
old son - whom he doubted was actually his child - on a swing and 
having his servants swing him for two days and two nights until 
the child was dead. There is an allusion in some of the existing 
documents to him killing his infant son, but no absolute proof. 
That he would have a choir on either side of the boy on the swing 
singing about the beauty of death is also invented, though in one 
of Gesualdo's compositions there is such a text. It is absolutely cer- 
tain, however, he caught his wife in flagrante and stabbed her and 
her lover to death. The court documents attest to this being histor- 
ical fact. 

The last scene of the film was shot at a local mediaeval tourna- 
ment, something the Italians love. I wanted to have the musical 
director speak about boldness and adventure in music, and as i 


was talking to him J noticed the face of a young man who was 
plajdng a footman to one of the knights. The whole scene with this 
footman picking up his mobile phone and speaking to his mother 
was, of course, staged. The person who actually called up was my 
own brother who knew exactly when to call as he was standing ten 
feet away. I told the young man to act as if it was his mother call- 
ing him and she wanted him to come back for lunch. I knew it was 
going to be the last scene in the film, and he says, 'Mom, don't 
worry, I'll be home very soon, because the film about Gesualdo is 
almost over.' I asked him to look straight into the camera after 
saying this line and look very serious. I was right next to the cam- 
era, plasdng around and making all sorts of jokes and things. There 
is a strange expression on his face because he didn't know whether 
to laugh or be serious, so he just stares for a long time into the 
camera, and the film ends. 

Little Dieter Needs to Fly zs one of my favourites, a very moving 
story told so incredibly by Dieter Dengler himself How did you 
first meet him? 

Dieter Dengler was the greatest rapper I ever met. He died recently 
of Lou Gehrig's disease, and the way the illness attacked him was 
to take his power of speech first. How scandalous that in his final 
days he was bereft of words. Being with Dieter was a constant joy. 
The man had such an intense enjoyment of life, something I think 
you really can feel throughout the film. Even when he could not 
talk any more we still managed to have long conversations 
together. Of course I had to do most of the talking, but he was still 
capable of getting stories across with his face and hands and feet. 
He could even tell jokes without being able to speak. I truly feel a 
great void now he is not around. 

Dieter's story is an amazing one. Born in Germany, his earliest 
memories are of Allied bombers diving down from the clouds and 
bombing his small village in the Black Forest into dust. One 
bomber came so close to the house where Dieter lived, firing as it 
flew, that it whipped past the window where he was standing. For 
a split second Dieter's eyes locked with the pilot's. Rather than 
being afraid, Dieter was mesmerized: he had seen some strange 
and almighty being fly down from the clouds, and from that 


Little Dieter Needs to Fly 

moment on Little Dieter Needed to Fly. After his apprenticeship as 
a blacksmith and church clock maker, he emigrated to America 
and after years of struggle became a pilot. During the very early 
stages of the Vietnam War he was shot down over Laos, where he 
was held prisoner for six months. There was a real innocence 
about the man. He had such a healthy and impressive and jubilant 
attitude to life, something that comes through in the film. One time 
after Dieter spoke in detail about the tortures he had experienced 
during captivity, my wife asked him, 'How do you sleep at nights?' 
"You see, darling, that was the fun part of my life.' I like this atti- 
tude; he never made a fuss about it. 

Sure, he had to develop certain safeguards once back home, 
but he never had to struggle for his sanity and certainly was not 
possessed by those things that you see so often among Vietnam 
veterans who returned home destroyed inside. I do not feel that 
Dieter was as changed by his experiences as much as most other 


people would have been. Clearly it was the event that shaped the 
rest of his life, for better or for worse, but Dieter had such a diffi- 
cult and hard childhood in the devastation of post-war Germany 
that he was actually extremely well prepared for an ordeal of that 
nature. He had all the qualities that make America so wonderful: 
self-reliance and courage, a kind of frontier spirit. He had grown 
up in a remote area of the country without his father, who had 
been killed in the war. As a child. Dieter saw things that made no 
earthly sense at all. Germany had been transformed into a dream- 
scape of the surreal, and this is exactly what we see in the film, 
shots of the bombed-out cityscapes. Like me, Dieter had to take 
charge of his life from a very early age, and because as children we 
both knew what real hunger was, we had an immediate rapport. 

When did you first meet Dieter? 

I was invited by a German television station to contribute to their 
series called Voyages to Hell. Immediately I thought, 'Ah yes, that 
sounds very good. My kind of thing.' The television executive 
actually wanted me to make a film about myself, all the stuff about 
landing in prison in Africa and the problems on Fitzcarraldo. 'This 
was difficult work,' I told him, 'but they were not voyages into 
hell.' I vaguely remembered reading about Dieter in the 1960s, 
though by now he was very much forgotten. 

In what way was the film stylized? 

This time the stylizations were more subtle. Actually, the film was 
shot twice, in both English and German. We were very careful 
about editing and stylizing Dieter's reality. He had to become an 
actor plajdng himself. Ever5^hing in the film is authentic Dieter, 
but to intensify him it is all re-orchestrated, scripted and rehearsed. 
It was my job as the director to translate and edit his thoughts 
into something profound and cinematic. Sometimes I had to push 
him to condense a story that rambled on for almost an hour into 
only a couple of minutes. There is hardly a scene in the film that 
was not shot at least five times until we got it exactly right. If 
Dieter did start to move away from the crucial details of the story, 
I would stop him and ask that he stick to the absolutely essential 


The film starts with Dieter visiting a tattoo parlour in San Fran- 
cisco and looking at a design of death whipping a team of horses 
down from Hell through fire and brimstone. He tells the tattoo 
artist that he could never put this image on his body because for 
him it was different. 'It wasn't death,' he says, 'it was the angels 
who steered the horses. Death really didn't want me.' Though it is 
true that he had hallucinations when he was near death by starva- 
tion in the jungle, of course Dieter never had any intention of 
really getting a tattoo. The whole thing was my idea. 
Then we cut to him driving in the hills of northern California 
and see him getting out of his car, opening and closing the car door 
and then going into his house. Dieter repeatedly opens and closes 
his front door, a scene I created from what he had casually men- 
tioned to me, that after his experiences in the jungle he truly appre- 
ciated the feeling of being able to open a door whenever he wanted 
to. It is a scene also sparked by the images of open doors we see 
inside his house, all of which were really his, something he also 
talks about in his autobiography.* 

All the big substantial elements in Little Dieter are real. All the 
food under the floorboards of his kitchen really was there, and the 
story of being followed by a bear in the jungle is also true. But one 
of the best examples of stylization in any of my films comes at the 
end of the film, a scene shot at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near 
Tucson, Arizona, a kind of aeroplane graveyard where there are 
tens of thousands of mothballed aircraft just sitting there on the 
ground, as far as the eye can see. From horizon to horizon, noth- 
ing but aircraft. Dieter stands there and talks about the nightmares 
he had right after he was rescued. He explains that his friends 
would take him from his bed and pack him into a cockpit at night. 
This is where he truly felt safe. 

Wasn't it a bit much to march Dieter back through the jungle with 
his hands bound behind his back? 

Dieter had been back to Asia and the jungle many times since the 
war. He loves Asia and the people very much. We actually filmed 
in Thailand in some jungle areas at the Loatian border and on 
the Mekong river itself because the Loatians did not allow us to 
cross the border and film there. Reconnaissance planes had 


photographed the remains of his plane just before we made the 
film so we knew exactly where it was, and Dieter said he was will- 
ing to swim across the Mekong river and film there, but in the end 
this idea was abandoned. The German television network wanted 
me to film re-enactments of the events Dieter was talking about, 
the kind of stupid thing you can see on television worldwide. I 
hate this kind of stuff so much and thought it better that Dieter do 
it all himself. He exuded so much sanity it was not a problem for 
him to walk through the jungle with his hands tied behind his 
back being led by a couple of guys with guns whom we hired from 
the nearest village. 'This is a little too close to home,' he says, but 
it was just a relatively safe way of getting something extraordinary 
from him. 

How was Little Dieter received in the United States? 

The film was generally very well received by American audiences. 
Inevitably I was asked why I did not denounce American aggression 
in the Vietnam war and why the film made no political statement 
about the war. Though I feel that the war is always very much in the 
margins of the film, you have to remember that for Dieter it lasted 
only forty minutes. It was never his aim to go to war; he just wanted 
to fly, and the only chance as a German to do this was to emigrate 
to the United States. It is only a chain of coincidences that he ended 
up in a war three weeks after he got his wings. One has to remem- 
ber this was 1965. At that point America was still only giving small- 
scale military assistance to the South Vietnamese generals who were 
tying to push back the infiltration from the north. Dieter was 
delighted to go over there because all his buddies had told him 
about the go-go girls in Saigon. He really never had any intention to 
go to war, and like so many people thought the whole thing would 
be over in a few weeks. In 1965 no American could have possibly 
known they were getting involved in a war that was to last so many 
years. Once he was down on the ground, of course, the entire coun- 
try was not an abstract grid on a map any more. All of a sudden it 
was filled with voices and human beings, people who were starving 
and under pressure of air attacks. And almost immediately he 
started to change his attitude, to understand that there were real 
people down there, real suffering and death. 


So the humanity of the film is somewhere else; it was not in 
political sloganeering. After spending time with Dieter, I realized 
that his story had the quality and structure of an ancient Greek 
tragedy. Dieter's story is that of a man and his dreams, his punish- 
ment and redemption. 

Wings of Hope seems almost like a sequel to Little Dieter, another 
tale of horror in the jungle. 

The film was one of those things dormant in me for many years. 
The film is the story of Juliane Kopeke, a seventeen-year-old 
German girl, the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Peruvian jun- 
gle on Christmas Eve in 1971. Juliane's mother was killed along 
with ninety-four others. What is so astonishing is that after ten 
days the intensive search was called off, and on the twelfth day 
Juliane emerged from the jungle. It is such a miraculous story, and 
what I like very much about Juliane is that she did ever5^ing right 
in order to survive her ordeal. 

The other reason for my fascination with the story is that in 1971 
I was in Peru filming Aguirre and, along with my wife, some actors 
and technicians, was booked on the very same flight. I had to bribe 
an airline employee to get the boarding passes, but at the last 
minute the flight was cancelled and the plane flew to a different des- 
tination. Only later did I discover that we were filming Aguirre just 
a few rivers away from Juliane as she was fighting for her life. As I 
had flown in the very same plane several times already back and 
forth into the jungle I knew many of the crew who later died on the 
flight. The airline was notorious for its crashes, and only months 
before, the pilots - who happened not to have valid pilots' licences 
- missed the runway in Cuzco and crashed into a mountain nearby. 
One hundred and six bodies were retrieved from the wreckage, 
even though the maximum capacity of the plane was only 96. The 
airline employees had sold an additional ten standing places in 
the aisle and pocketed the cash. I always knew that I would make 
the film one day, but it took quite a while to locate Juliane. She had 
disappeared and covered her tracks because she had been harassed 
by the press so intensely after her rescue, becoming very low-key, 
getting married and changing her name. I managed to find her 
father, who immediately ranted against me saying he would never 


give the name and address of his daughter to anyone. There was no 
way of convincing him that I might be different from the press. I 
had a suspicion that she would be in Peru because that was where 
she had grown up. I knew she loved the jungle and thought that she 
might be working as a biologist in one of the ecology stations down 

In the end I found her through some old newspaper clippings 
about her mother's burial in a small Bavarian town. I finally located 
the retired Catholic priest who buried Juliane's mother, and he told 
me that one aunt was still alive and lived in the next village. I went 
straight over there, but she would not tell me anything. I asked her 
to pass my phone number on to Juliane, which she did. Juliane 
called me, and it turned out she lived in Munich and not Peru. I 
explained to her that it would be enough for me to talk with her for 
thirty minutes, not a minute longer, and that of course I would not 
record the conversation. I also explained that exactly five minutes 
into our meeting I would offer to withdraw if she wanted me to. So 
when we met I put my wristwatch on the table and exactly 300 sec- 
onds into the meeting I stood up, took my wristwatch, bowed to 
her and said, 'This is the deal. I am withdrawing unless you would 
like to continue for the next twenty-five minutes.' And she took my 
arm and said, 'Sit down and stay. We haven't finished yet.' 

Did Juliane have any idea who you were before you met? 

She had seen a couple of my films, which was quite helpful because 
she liked them. The thing was she was still somewhat traumatized 
by the media's treatment of her back then. I touch on this in Wings 
of Hope when talking about the trashy film made about her experi- 
ences. Our first meeting was over two hours, but it took one full 
year for her to decide that she would co-operate with me on a film. 
Once she had said yes she really went for it, knowing there would 
be no mercy, and so it was not surprising for her that I asked her 
to sit in window seat F, row 19 on the aeroplane when we went 
back to the jungle. This was the same seat she had when her plane 
disintegrated over the Amazon. Her ill-fated plane back then had 
come apart in a thunderstorm at an altitude of 15,000 feet, and 
Juliane had sailed to earth strapped to her row of seats. The fact 
that she landed in the jungle without being killed is a miracle, but 


her escape from the jungle was not. It was sheer professionahsm. 
She knew the jungle very well from her time spent at the ecological 
station her parents had built, and she never panicked when croco- 
diles splashed from the sandbanks left and right into the river in 
which she was wading. She knew that crocodiles always flee from 
human beings and they hide in the water, never in the jungle. 
Everyone else, including me, would have fled into the jungle and 
inevitably perished there. 

What is stylized in Wings of Hope? Is it the dream sequences? 

When it comes to Juliane's dreams and Dieter Dengler's dreams or 
Fini Straubinger's in Land of Silence and Darkness, it is all pure 
invention. The invention serves these real people and our own 
insight into who these characters are. There is a scene in Little 
Dieter where Dieter is standing in front of a water tank full of 
jell3rfish explaining what death looks like. In our conversations he 
described his dream to me in such a way that immediately an 
image of a jellyfish floated into my mind. It was almost dancing in 
a kind of slow-motion transparent movement, exactly the image 
that was needed to enable his dream to be articulated on screen. 
Dieter could not express it, so I did it for him and had him stand 
next to the water tank. I just took his words and enriched them 
with images, much like a scientist enriches uranium. He then has a 

In Wings of Hope all the dream sequences are invented. The film 
opens with a dream sequence with Juliane walking down a street 
and seeing broken dummies in shop windows. The voice-over talks 
about how in her dreams the faces she encounters are broken. 'The 
heads are smashed, but she is not afraid.' There were some very 
personal things that Juliane did not want to talk about, and she 
knew I would always respect her wishes on things like that. My 
decision not to introduce too many stylized elements into the film 
was probably something to do with her character. Juliane is a sci- 
entist, very straight-talking and clear-headed, and the only reason 
she survived her ordeal was because of her ability to act method- 
ically through those absolutely dire circumstances. I wanted these 
qualities to shine through in the film. Look, for example, at how 
much the mosquitoes bothered her husband, while Juliane does 


not think twice about them as she is so used to deahng with crea- 
tures hke this. Of course, there is real grief in the film but it is done 
with tenderness and discretion. Not dwelling on the pain that 
Juliane went through back then means the story is much more 
haunting for audiences. Again the television executives wanted re- 
enactments of her experiences. They certainly never expected me 
to take Juliane herself back to the jungle. But by doing this, and by 
t5dng Dieter Dengler up and walking him through the trails where 
he almost perished thirty years before, we ended up ploughing a 
deeper reality. 

A friend insisted I ask you this question, i know that for you film 
is not art, but what is the purpose of art in general? 

I have never asked myself such a question. I only know that the 
work of great poets and artists does not change the course of my 
life. But it makes it better. 

In what way? 

Just write that it makes my life BETTER. And make sure you spell 
it with capital letters. 


1 See page 303. 

2 Cinema verite [cinema truth] is the name given to the work of film- 
makers (Frederick Wiseman, Richard Leacock, D. A. Pennebaker, 
Robert Drew, Jean Rouch, etc.) who emerged primarily in the 
United States and France in the late 1950s. Drawing on the early 
work of Flaherty (Nanook of the North) and Vertov {The Man with 
the Movie Camera), the practitioners of cinema verite were very 
aware of the effect their cameras had on the events they were trying 
to capture, and as such acted more as 'participant observers'. Their 
approach, born in part out of methods of television journalism, 
resulted in films that seemed to be more objective in their presenta- 
tion of real life. One major reason why the movement emerged 
when it did was due to the new portable cameras and sound equip- 
ment (including sjmchronous sound 16 mm and faster film stock). 
Some filmmakers, for example the Maysles brothers {Salesman and 
Gimmie Shelter), preferred to use the term 'direct cinema'. See films 
such as Drew's Primary {i960), Rouch and Mourin's Chronicle of a 


Summer (1961) and Pennebaker's Don't Look Back (1967), and 
Peter Wintonick's historical documentary Cinema Verite: Defining 
the Moment (1999). 

3 Chris Marker (b. 1921, France) is best known for his short feature 
La Jetee (1962), which was the inspiration for Terry Gilliam's Twelve 
Monkeys (1995). Since the 1960s Marker has produced a series of 
challenging and somewhat experimental 'documentaries', including 
Le Jolie Mai (1963), Sans Soleil (1982) and The Last Bolshevik 

4 See Frederic Spotts's Bayreuth, A History of the Wagner Festival 
(Yale University Press, 1994). 

5 See Denis Arnold's Gesualdo (BBC, 1984). 

6 Escape from Laos (Preside Press, 1979). 'Above me the golden door 
opened again. Racing chariots dashed out, and I threw up my arms 
to protect myself from the sharp, trampling hooves.' (p. 199) 


9. The Song of Ue 

One person we haven't talked about is Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 
who edited many of your films, including Signs of Life, Aguirre and 
Land of Silence and Darkness, and with whom you worked until 
Fitzcarraldo. How did you work with her, and what is your general 
approach to editing? 

The way I worked with Beate was simple: very fast, with great 
urgency. It is not that I have a slovenly attitude to the editing 
process, it is just that I take quick decisions and Beate was always 
very good at instantly sensing what was the best footage sitting in 
front of her. She would unfailingly identify which sequences 
worked and which did not. I have learned so much from Beate 
over the years and without her input I would be only a shadow of 
myself. On our first collaboration. Signs of Life, the first reel we 
checked at the flat-bed was a 600-metre roll. It had been coiled the 
wrong way from the end, so she put it on the machine and spun it 
backwards through the reels, about five times as fast as it would 
normally be viewed. At the end of this, she grabbed the whole reel 
and threw it into the garbage, saying, "This is so bad I am just not 
going to touch it again.' And of course I was aghast, but after a 
couple of weeks I looked at this reel again in the context of the rest 
of the film and she was right. Just as quickly she would always be 
able to spot the good footage. 

Have you continued to work in this way with other editors? 

I have always been able to work through the footage and put 
together a first assembly of what I feel the final film should be in 


less than a fortnight. And I never look at things I have edited the 
day before. Every morning I get into the editing room and start 
from the point where we finished the previous night, and only at 
the end do I look at what we have put together. This approach 
does require a certain amount of recklessness, I admit, but it is the 
only way to keep the material absolutely fresh and ensure that only 
the footage of the highest calibre remains. All in all, editing of a 
feature film takes two or three months. 

Ever3^ing that is not useful is immediately junked, which 

means when it comes to fine-tuning we never have endless takes to 
view. Being able to establish a film's rhythm on location is for me 
what real filmmaking is, as big mistakes can rarely be rectified in 
the editing room, and this is the reason why I am so careful about 
ensuring I make the right choices on location. I never shoot endless 
amounts of footage. On Aguirre, for example, I shot only about 
50,000 feet of film in total. There are very few exceptions to this, 
the most obvious one being Fata Morgana, which was structured 
entirely in the editing room, though in a strange way I still say that 
the rhythm of the film was established during shooting, even 
though I had no idea what I was going to do with the footage when 
I was shooting it. 

Have you ever got into the editing room and found that all the 
footage you have to work with is an unusable mess? 

Never, though sometimes it is clear that a certain scene will not 
work properly, so I cut it. But the film as a whole has always been 
what I planned. With Invincible I realized very quickly that the 
film would be too long and sat for some time on a version that was 
almost three hours. The footage was all good and coherent, but I 
put it aside for six weeks and tried to forget about it. I knew some- 
how that I needed to condense the film and tighten it. When I went 
back to it, within a day I had cut forty minutes from the film and 
was left with the version that you can see today. For Kaspar 
Hauser I had a seven-minute-long sequence between Kaspar and 
an impoverished farmer in the countryside. The farmer in his 
despair had killed his last surviving cow. It was a very intense and 
beautiful scene, but somehow disrupted the flow of the story. It 
meant the audience would have to take some time to get back into 


the story once the scene was over, so I threw it out even though it 
was one of the two or three best sequences I had shot. I am not 
speaking here of the mechanics of the story. It fit in the story and it 
made a lot of sense when placed in the context of this story of Kas- 
par being pushing into this world around him. But there was some- 
thing about it that disrupted the flow of the film in terms of how I 
felt audiences would receive it; they were detoured too far, and the 
return journey would have been too arduous. In such a case, as I 
work for audiences and for no one else, I had no problems throw- 
ing the scene out. During the editing of every film you have to 
undergo the cruelty of tearing scenes out and throwing them into 
the garbage. This is one of the most painful lessons to learn as a 
filmmaker: in each film there is some sort of unique inner timing 
that must be discovered and respected so the story will properly 
function on the screen. 

One thing that Beate taught me is that when you look at the 
material you have in the editing room, forget about yourself, for- 
get any ideas you might have had before you stepped into that 
room, forget about the story and the screenplay. When confronted 
by your footage you must become smaller than a midget, less than 
the black under my nail. Very often I see filmmakers ruin their 
films by squeezing the footage into a preconceived notion that has 
been brought into the editing room from the original script. 
But you must let the material escape the clutches of the script, 
let it enlarge or shrink itself as it needs to. Your film is like your 
children. You might want a child with certain qualities, but you are 
never going to get the exact specifications right. The film has a 
privilege to live its own life and develop its own character. To sup- 
press this is dangerous. It is an approach which works the other 
way too: sometimes the footage has amazing qualities that you did 
not expect. I always approach footage as a surprise that was 
dumped in my editing room. It is a real joy to dig away and dis- 
cover the gems. 

Why did you ask Beate to join you on the set ofStroszek? 

From the first film we made together, Signs of Life, Beate was 
always complaining how bad my films were. She thought they 
were so embarrassingly terrible that she never went to the opening 


night of any of my films, with the exception of Even Dwarfs 
Started Small, which she did Hke. For Nosferatu, as usual she 
grumbled about the terrible footage that I had dumped on her 
doorstep. But I think that this kind of response was somehow a 
challenge. It was meant to push me to do the very best that I pos- 
sibly could. 

It was wonderful seeing her working with these reels which she 
truly felt had such little value. By the end she was fighting for the 
footage. As she saw it, she was working hard to salvage what little 
good she could from it, protecting it from incompetents like me. I 
truly liked this attitude. For years I said to her that much of what 
she complained about was due to the physical circumstances of 
shooting and that there were always so many obstacles to struggle 
with on location. Every single shot always involved some sort of a 
compromise, and it is vital to be lively and intelligent enough to 
take these difficult situations and make something remarkable 
out of them. 'If you do not believe me,' I finally said to her, 'why 
not come to the set of the next film and be with me during the 
shooting?' So she came to do continuity and watch the filming of 
Stroszek in Germany and America. Of course, she hated every 
single day of shooting much more than the time she later spent 
editing the film. 

I was always very aware of Beate's skills as an editor - she orig- 
inally edited for Alexander Kluge - and I worked with her because 
of that. No matter that she disliked much of what I brought to 
her, or that she truly found the whole experience on the set of 
Stroszek and the story itself absolutely disgusting. She hated every- 
thing we shot so much that sometimes she would signal to the 
cinematographer to cut and shut it down and stop the whole 
damned thing. One time she did this when I was watching Bruno 
and Eva Mattes who were acting in some of the best footage I have 
ever shot in my life. I could have killed her like a coward, with a 
snow shovel from behind. But of course that is life; you have to 
accept strong collaborators. I do not need 'yes' men and women 
around, a docile crew that tells me everything I do is great. What I 
need is people like Beate, creative people with a strong independ- 
ent spirit and attitude. 

Having said that, after filming I am always loaded with subjec- 
tive feelings and certain irrational preferences, and after Stroszek I 


realized that there is a certain value to keeping the editor as far 
away from the location as possible. It is very important the editor 
is able to look as clearly and objectively as possible at the footage 
sitting in the cans, and if she is witness to all the trouble and effort 
that goes into shooting a scene - maybe one that I particularly like 
- she might decide that though it does not work in the context of 
the film, we should keep it in because of all the trouble it caused us. 
'What a waste to lose it!' So, generally, I think it is good to keep 
editors away from the filming in order to preserve the purity of 
their opinions. 

If the technology had been available at the time, would you ever 
have made a film like Aguirre on digital video? And would you 
ever make a Dogme film, for example? 

Under no circumstances. Video is a different approach to film pri- 
marily because there is this unhealthy pseudo-security a director 
has about instantly knowing what the image he has just captured 
is. But this is very misleading. When I know in my guts we have 
got the best we possibly can out of a scene, then I stop. It does not 
matter whether I see dailies or not. I know this is going to be the 
best take that I have done and everything else becomes meaning- 
less. I have never liked watching dailies, and I have always found 
them dangerously misleading. To check certain technical things 
they are useful, but when you take an individual shot out of con- 
text not only from the scene where it sits but also from the rest of 
the film - much of which we might not have even shot yet - there 
is no way of knowing just how competent and useful it really is. 

But you can see how appealing the new technology is for young 

Absolutely. It means they can become much more self-reliant. But 
again, I suggest caution should be exercised, or at the very least 
these filmmakers need to understand the differences between what 
they are shooting with and what kinds of images can be obtained 
with celluloid. I am not one to tell others what they should do and 
what they should use, but I myself am a man of celluloid; it has its 
own depths and force which you do not easily achieve when you 
work with digital technology. Of course, video will improve over 


the years and I have shot two films on video, Pilgrimage and Lord 
and the Laden, both of which were filmed in places where we were 
not allowed to put up lights, so film would not have worked. So 
clearly there are some real advantages to video technology. It is just 
that for a feature like Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo it would not be 
acceptable to shoot on anything but film. 

Anyway, I would never be accepted into the Dogme 95 move- 
ment because I use lights, tripods, costumes, etc. And I would not 
like to make a film without music either. I do everj1;hing in the 
book that is contrary to the basic Dogme recipes. Even though 
they themselves do not take it that seriously, I know it is not for 
me. The physical immediacy of making a film like Aguirre - even 
though it is a period film - the Dogme people really love and this 
was the reason Harmony Korine wanted me to play the father in 
his Dogme film julien donkey-boy. Originally, he was going to act 
as my son, but in the end he did not feel comfortable enough to be 
behind and in front of the camera at the same time. So he did not 
just cast me in the role only because I was the right age and looked 
right; it was much more significant for him than that. He wanted 
his 'cinematic father' to be in the film even if the character I play is 
completely dysfunctional and hostile. 

One morning in 1984 you left Sachrang, the village where you 
spent your childhood, and proceeded to walk around the entire 
border of West and East Germany. What little I've read about your 
walk suggests that it was something like apolitical act. 

Not explicitly, no. Some years ago, before the revolutions that 
swept through eastern Europe in 1989, it seemed that for many 
Germans reunification was a lost cause as the nation was in frag- 
ments with no real centre. The country had no centre or middle, it 
was without a real metropolis, and there was no heart beating at 
its core. It was almost as if the country had become homeless 
within its own territory, and while the real capital city was a 
divided enclave deep in a separate country, we had to make do 
with a small provincial town. I was upset by politicians like Willy 
Brandt,! who in a public statement as Chancellor declared the 
book on German reunification closed. But I had a very clear 
'knowledge' about the inevitability of reunification. In fact, back 


then I insisted that it was a historic necessity, even though promi- 
nent figures Hke Giinter Grass insisted that Germany should never 
be reunified.3 

Ireland will be reunified one day. It might take another few 
hundred years, but it will eventually become one nation. Korea 
too, no matter when. I truly believe there is a geographical fate to 
nations, not only a cultural or political fate. The unification of 
Germany was very dear to my heart. I still remember the deep 
feeling of joy and jubilation when the Berlin Wall came down. 
My great hope was that in an explosion of freedom, everyone in 
East Germany would crawl out of their holes and display to the 
world their creative energies. However, I found it appalling that 
after the first week of sheer jubilation and ecstasy in Germany 
almost everyone lapsed into a climate of complaint, something 
that is still all-pervading. I find it very sad and it is one of the rea- 
sons why I do not want to physically live in Germany. In the early 
1990s everything seemed to be overshadowed by committee meet- 
ings and bureaucratic wranglings. There was also the incessant 
talk and debate that went on for months about moving the gov- 
ernment to Berlin. How could parliament, we were told, move to 
Berlin and start sessions in the new Reichstag without having all 
the offices ready for the parliamentarians? Such worry about this. 
Godammit, a parliament can hold its session in an open field if it 
needs to! 

Back in 1984 I had the increasingly strong feeling that Germany 
was an extremely godforsaken country. What, I asked myself, was 
actually holding it together? What was capable of binding the 
country together again until it was reunited in the distant future? I 
felt that the only things we Germans were held together by were 
our culture and language, and for this reason I truly felt that it was 
only the poets who could hold Germany together and so set out 
from Sachrang and started walking westwards around the border. 
I was careful to walk clockwise so I would always have Germany 
on my right side. What happened was that after about 2,000 kilo- 
metres I became ill and had to return, so I jumped on a train home, 
where I was hospitalized for a week. To this day the journey 
remains some kind of unfinished task for me. 

It should be clear that I never had a nationalistic attitude to my 
task. There was no doubt that Germany would, after its unification, 


disappear into the abyss of history, just as historically - and for other 
reasons - former world powers like Holland and Portugal have. But 
at the same time Germany is returning to the bosom of the civilized 
world. It is not completely there yet, but has undergone profound 
changes and made real progress. We should not overlook this. 

Has travelling on foot always been very important to you? 

Humans are not made to sit at computer terminals or travel by 
aeroplane; destiny intended something different for us. For too 
long now we have been estranged from the essential, which is the 
nomadic life: travelling on foot. A distinction must be made 
between hiking and travelling on foot. In today's society - though 
it would be ridiculous to advocate travelling on foot for everyone 
to every possible destination - I personally would rather do the 
existentially essential things in my life on foot. If you live in Eng- 
land and your girlfriend is in Sicily, and it is clear that you want to 
marry her, then you should walk to Sicily to propose. For these 
things travel by car or aeroplane is not the right thing. The volume 
and depth and intensity of the world is something that only those 
on foot will ever experience. I have never been a tourist, for a 
tourist destroys cultures. I have a dictum that connected me 
instantly with Bruce Chatwin, one that I put in the Minnesota 
Declaration: 'Tourism is sin and travel by foot is virtue.' Cultures 
around the world visited by tourists are having their basic dignity 
and identity stripped away. 

My voyages on foot have always been essential experiences for 
me. For many hours during my walk around Germany, sometimes 
even a day or two at a time, there was no well or creek to drink 
from. I would knock on the door of a farmhouse and ask for some- 
thing to drink. 'Where are you from?' the farmer would ask. I 
would say Sachrang. 'How far away is this?' 'About 1,500 kilo- 
metres,' I would reply. 'How did you get here?' And the moment I 
would explain that I walked, there is no more small talk. It is the 
same when you cross the Sahara, not necessarily on foot but in a 
car. Those people who have crossed the Sahara somehow recog- 
nize each other. And when people take note of how far you have 
walked, they start telling you stories they have bottled up for forty 
years. One evening in a mountain hut I spoke with a retired 


teacher who told me a story about the Second World War. It was 
the final day of the war in Europe and he was in Holland, with 
Canadian forces only a little over a hundred metres away advanc- 
ing on him with their tanks. He had been given orders to take a 
group of soldiers prisoner at a farm beyond the advancing line of 
enemy tanks. He explained that only by turning his gun against his 
ovm superior officer did he manage to prevent the execution of the 
prisoners. Then, together with the Dutch captives and the superior 
officer he had taken prisoner, he was intercepted by the Canadian 
tanks which he had overtaken and outrun on an open field head- 
ing back to his own lines, and was taken prisoner himself. 
When you come on foot, you come with a different intensity. 
Travelling on foot has nothing to do with exercise. I spoke earlier 
about daydreaming and that I do not dream at nights. Yet when I 
am walking I fall deep into dreams, I float through fantasies and 
find myself inside unbelievable stories. I literally walk through 
whole novels and films and football matches. I do not even look at 
where I am stepping, but I never lose my direction. When I come 
out of a big story I find myself twenty-five or thirty kilometres fur- 
ther on. How I got there I do not know. 

Your friendship with Lotte Eisner was so strong that when she fell 
ill you refused to let her die. You said German film just wasn't 
ready for her death, that it still needed her. Was this the reason why 
you walked to Paris to see her, a voyage you wrote about in your 
book Of Walking in Ice? 

In 1974 we German filmmakers were still fragile, and when a 
friend told me Lotte had suffered a massive stroke and I should get 
on the next plane to Paris, I made the decision not to fly. It was not 
the right thing to do, and because I just could not accept that she 
might die, I walked from Munich to her apartment in Paris. I put 
on a shirt, grabbed a bundle of clothes, a map and a compass, and 
set off in a straight line, sleeping under bridges, in farms and aban- 
doned houses. I made only one detour to the town of Troyes 
because I wanted to walk into the cathedral there. I walked against 
her death, knowing that if I walked on foot she would be alive 
when I got there. And that is just what happened. Lotte lived until 
the age of ninety or thereabouts, and years after the walk, when 


she was nearly blind, could not walk or read or go out to see films, 
she said to me, 'Werner, there is still this spell cast over me that I 
am not allowed to die. I am tired of life. It would be a good time 
for me now.' Jokingly I said, 'OK, Lotte, I hereby take the spell 
away.' Three weeks later she died. 

When you travel on foot with this intensity, it is not a matter of 
covering actual ground, rather it is a question of moving through 
your own inner landscapes. I wrote a diary of the walk which I 
pulled out during the shooting of Nosferatu and decided to publish 
as Of Walking in Ice. I actually like the book more than my films; 
it is closer to my heart than all my films together, I think, because 
of the many compromises that filmmaking always entails. 

Have you thought since about writing similar books of 'prose 

Sometimes I feel that I should have done more writing, that I might 
be a better writer than I am a filmmaker. The writer is the one 
inside me who remains to be properly discovered. There is a lot of 
written material I have not even dared to read myself since I wrote 
it, for example, notebooks from the time I worked on Fitzcarraldo. 
The texts are all in subminiaturized handwriting; it could not get 
any smaller because no pens exist that give a finer stroke. Why I 
wrote it like this I do not know, as my longhand is of normal size. 
I know it was not to stop people from reading it, though you do 
need a magnifying glass to make it out. I have not read it since I 
wrote it. I think I am scared to dive back in there. 

You were good friends with the writer Bruce Chatwin. What do 
you think it was that drew you so closely together? 

The fact that we both travel on foot made us instant friends. 
And I always felt Chatwin4 was the most important writer of his 
generation in the English language, somehow in the same league as 

Where did you first meet him? 

In Melbourne in 1984. I was in Australia working on Where the 
Green Ants Dream and read in the paper that he was also in the 


country, so immediately contacted his publishing company and 
tried to locate him. They told me he was somewhere in the desert 
in central Australia and two days later called me back and said, 'If 
you call this number in Adelaide within the next twenty minutes 
you will reach him before he goes to the airport.' I called him and 
asked what his plans were. He was flying to Sydney, but after a very 
short conversation he changed his plans and flew to Melbourne 
instead. How would I recognize him? 'Look for a man with a 
leather rucksack,' he told me. Apparently Bruce knew some of my 
films and had read Of Walking in Ice, which he liked very much, 
and we spent forty-eight hours together talking and talking. For 
every story I told him, he would tell me three. It never ended; when 
he was interested in something nothing could stop him. 
Years later when he was very ill he asked me to come and show 
him my film about the Wodaabe, but he had the strength to watch 
only ten minutes at a time. Before I arrived I was not aware that he 
was dying. But he insisted on seeing the film, bit by bit. He was 
lucid, but eventually became delirious and would exclaim, 'I've 
got to be on the road again, I've got to be on the road again.' And 
I would say, 'Yes, that is where you belong.' He wanted me to 
come with him, and I told him we would walk together if he got 
stronger. 'My rucksack is so heavy,' he said. 'Bruce, i will carry it,' 
I said. His bones were aching and he would ask me to move him in 
his bed. He called his legs 'the boys'. One time he asked me, 'Will 
you move the left boy to the other side.' And he looked down and 
saw that his legs were so weak they were almost spindles, and he 
looked at me and with great lucidity said, 'I will never walk again.' 
I still carry the leather rucksack he used all his life. He gave it to me 
saying, 'You are the one who has to carry it on now.' I still carry it, 
and I had it with me in the snow storm in Patagonia, sitting on it 
for fifty hours dug into the snow. It is much more than just a tool 
to carry things. If my house were on fire I would first grab my chil- 
dren and throw them from the window. But of all my belongings it 
would be the rucksack that I would save. 

We've saved the wildest stuff for the end: Klaus Kinski. Why did 
you make My Best Fiend, the film about your relationship with the 
man you directed in five feature films, and the man who had 
caused you so much grief? 


Sure, sometimes he caused me trouble when we were making those 
films. Every grey hair on my head I call BGnski. But who really 
cares about that now. What is important is the five films got made 
and they are out there for people to enjoy. And he gave truly amaz- 
ing - and in subtle ways very different - performances in each of 
them. Undoubtedly, he was the ultimate pestilence to work with. 
He was such an intense man, something that naturally frightens 
most people. But often he was a joy, and you know, he was one of 
the few people I ever learned anything from. 

Like what? 

There was the 'Kinski Spiral' for example, something I talk about 
with photographer Beat Presser in My Best Fiend. When you enter 
the frame from the side, showing your profile and then face the 
camera, there is no tension, so whenever there was a reason for it, 
Kinski would make his appearance from directly behind the cam- 
era. Say Kinski wanted to spin into frame from the left. He would 
position himself next to the camera, with the left hot next to the 
tripod. Then he would step over the tripod with the right leg, 
twisting the foot inward. The whole body would organically 
unwind before the camera allowing him to smoothly spin into 
frame. It really did create a mysterious and disturbing tension. By 
the way, there is also a move called 'Kinski's Double Spiral' where 
the initial movement is followed by a counter-spin, but I could 
never explain it to you in words. It is complex stuff I adapted the 
single spiral for a shot in Kaspar Hauser when Kaspar is at the 
party with Lord Stanhope. 

Our creative relationship was so pronounced and intense that I 
felt I had to make a film about our struggles and friendship and 
distrust. It sounds like a contradiction, but it is not. People think 
we had a love-hate relationship. Well, I did not love him, nor did 
I hate him. We had mutual respect for each other, even as we both 
planned each other's murder. Klaus was one of the greatest film 
actors of the century, but he was also a monster and a great pesti- 
lence. The fact that he constantly threw tantrums, created scandals 
and broke contracts scared other directors, and every single day I 
had to domesticate the beast. But he also really knew so much 
about the cinema, about film lighting, stage craft, the choreography 


My Best Fiend 

of the body on screen. He created a climate of unconditional pro- 
fessionalism on every set he worked on that he would not allow me 
to step back from. 

Was there a particular reason you made My Best Fiend when you 

It was a question of the right timing. When I first heard Kinski had 
died, the fact really did not enter my heart until months later when 
I stood with his ashes in my hands and threw them into the Pacific 
Ocean. Even to this day I still catch myself sometimes talking in the 
present tense about him. I needed to let time pass and I knew time 
would have the mysterious power to change perspective, and only 
because of that has the film humour and warmth. I had always felt 
something was missing from the five films we made together. I 
needed something to bind them together and fill that missing link. 
And had I made the film right after Kinski's death, I am sure it 
Would have been a much darker work. Now I can laugh much 
more about what happened, see the bizarre side of everything and 


look back with a certain serenity. The film was easy to make, 
almost eiTortless. 

It's not a biography of the actor nor anything like a nostalgia film. 
How do you see the film? 

My Best Fiend is neither a work about Kinski, nor about me. 
Rather it is about an extraordinary working relationship. My 
choice of interviewees - I am speaking here primarily of Eva 
Mattes and Claudia Cardinale - was very carefully planned. I 
could have found untold numbers of people who had only terrible 
things to say about Kinski, that he was the ultimate scum. But I 
wanted to show his other side, one that shines through not one bit 
in his autobiography: someone full of humour and warmth and 
love and generosity. For example I am glad I included the 
sequence of Kinski and me embracing at the Telluride Film Festi- 
val. In fact I am glad this footage even exists otherwise no one 
would believe that we were so good with each other. He always 
complained about the money he was offered to be in certain films. 
He refused offers from Kurosawa, Fellini and Pasolini, always 
talking about them as vermin who did not pay enough. Yet I 
always had relatively small budgets and paid him less than what 
he would have earned working -with these other directors. I truly 
believe that with me he had a rapport which meant money just 
was not that important. In public BCinski claimed to hate my films, 
but when you spoke to him privately it was obvious he was proud 
of them. 

Whenever I watch the film with audiences there is always so much 
laughter, maybe more than with any other film of yours. 

I get that too. It is something that really pleases me about the film. 
The scenes when he is screaming at our production manager 
Walter Saxer on the set of Fitzcarraldo, the shots at the beginning 
of the film during his infamous 'Jesus Tour' and when we visit the 
apartment in Munich are all very funny. 

How did you come to live with him in Munich for a time when you 
were a young boy? 


It was a complete chain of coincidences. My mother, straggling to 
raise three sons on her own, found a room in a boarding house for 
the four of us. The owner of the boarding house, Klara Rieth, an 
elderly lady of sixty-five with wildly dyed orange hair, had a soft 
spot for starving artists as she herself had come from a family of 
artists. Kinski had been living nearby in an attic, without furniture, 
just bare beams, and everj^hing covered knee-high with dead 
leaves. He posed as a starving artist and walked around stark 
naked. When the postman rang Kinski rustled through his leaves, 
stark naked, and signed. But from the very first moment he arrived, 
he terrorized everyone. He locked himself into the bathroom for 
two days and two nights and for forty-eight hours in his maniacal 
fury he smashed everjthing to smithereens. The bathtub, the toilet 
bowl, everything. You could sift it through a tennis racket. I never 
thought it possible that someone could rave for so long. 
He had a tiny room with a small window. One day he took a 
huge running start down the corridor while we were eating. I 
heard a strange noise and then, like in an explosion, the door came 
off its hinges crashing into the room. He must have jumped against 
it at full speed, and now he stood there flailing wildly, completely 
hysterical, foaming at the mouth. Something came floating down 
like leaves - it was his shirts - and three octaves too high he 
screamed, 'Klara! You pig!' His screams were incredibly shrill, 
and he could actually break wine glasses with his voice. What 
happened was this poor woman who let him live there for free, 
feeding and cleaning for him, had not ironed his shirt collars neatly 

One day a theatre critic had been invited for dinner. He hinted 
that having watched a play in which Kinski had a small role, he 
would mention him as outstanding and extraordinary. At once, 
Kinski threw two hot potatoes and the cutlery in his face. He 
jumped up and screamed, 'I was not excellent! I was not extraor- 
dinary! I was monumental! I was epochal!' I think I was the only 
one around the table who was not afraid, merely astonished. I 
looked at him the way you would look if an extraterrestrial had 
just landed or a tornado had just struck. 

Was Kinski a classically trained actor? 


No, he was self-taught and at times I could hear him in his tiny 
room for ten hours non-stop doing his voice and speaking exer- 
cises. He pretended to be a genius who had fallen straight from 
heaven and who had obtained his gift by the grace of God, but in 
reality it was incredible how much work he did training himself. 
Having seen him at such close range I suppose I should have 
knovm better than to work with him as a director. When I was fif- 
teen I saw Kinski in the anti-war film. Kinder, Mutter und ein Gen- 
erals He plays a lieutenant who leads schoolboys to the front. 
The mothers of the boys and the soldiers go to sleep for a few 
hours. Kinski is awakened at daybreak, and the way he wakes up 
will forever stay in my memory. I replay it several times in My Best 
Fiend. I am sure it looks like nothing special to most people, but 
this one moment impressed me so profoundly that later it was a 
decisive factor in my professional life. Strange, how memory can 
magnify something like that. Today, the scene where he orders 
Maximillian Schell to be shot seems much more impressive to me. 

It seems that be really needed you as much as you needed him. 
Without films like Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo he would have been 
totally unknown outside of Europe. 

Bvinski and I completed each other in a strange way. It is certainly 
true that I owe him a lot, but also that he owed me a great deal too, 
only he could never admit it. It was very fortunate for both of us, 
fortunate for me that he did a film like Aguirre and fortunate for 
him that I took him seriously as an actor. You look at his filmog- 
raphy, something like zoo films, and you know exactly what I am 
talking about. He was totally reckless with his ovm possibilities. 
He respected and truly liked me, but he would never admit that in 
public. On the contrary, he would heap the wildest expletives over 
me, which has a very funny side to it. 

In his autobiography, Kinski Uncut,* he describes his feelings 
towards you. 

It is a highly fictitious book, not only when he describes me and 
our relationship. Page after page he keeps on coming back to me, 
almost like an obsessive compulsion. In some passages of this book 
I kind of had a hand in helping him to invent particularly vile 


expletives. Sometimes we sat on a wooden bench, looking over the 
landscape, and he said, 'Werner, nobody will read this book if I do 
not write bad stuff about you. If I wrote that we get along well 
together, nobody would buy it. The scum only want to hear about 
the dirt.' I came with a dictionary and we tried to find even fouler 
expressions. He needed money at the time and knew - quite rightly 
- that by writing a semi-pornographic rant against everyone and 
everything it would get some attention. He describes his childhood 
as one of such poverty that he had to fight with the rats over the 
last piece of bread. In reality he grew up in a relatively well-to-do 
middle-class pharmacist's household. 

Did you ever feel that he was some kind of alter ego for you? 

Though we worked together five times, I never saw him as some 
kind of doppelgdnger. We were similar in many ways, and I think 
the reason he returned again and again to work with me was 
because we shared a real passion for our work. I suppose you 
might argue he was my screen alter ego, but only because all the 
characters in my films are so close to my heart. Maybe he was as 
much a doppelgdnger for me as I was for him. It is hard to 
explain, but Kinski had always wished he could direct, and he 
really envied me for certain qualities that I had. He wanted to 
articulate certain things that were brooding inside of him but was 
not able to. 

JCinski sometimes believed I was completely mad. This is not 
true, of course. I am quite sane, clinically sane, so to speak. 
Together we were like two critical masses which created a danger- 
ous mixture whenever they came into contact with each other. One 
day I seriously planned to firebomb him in his house, a wonderful 
'infallible' plan sabotaged only by the vigilance of his Alsatian 
shepherd dog. Later he told me that around the same time he 
planned to murder me as well. But although we often kept our dis- 
tance, we would seek out one another again at the right time and 
equally often could understand one another without words, 
almost like animals. I could see through him like no one else could. 
I knew what was in there and what could be mobilized and articu- 
lated. Whenever he really got going, I would get the shooting 
underway as quickly as possible, and often we managed to capture 


on film something unique. Sometimes I would even provoke him 
so he ended up shouting and screaming for a couple of hours, after 
which he would be so exhausted and in the right mood, very silent, 
quiet and dangerous. I did this for the speech in Aguirre when he 
calls himself 'the Wrath of God'. He wanted to play the scene 
screaming with real anger while I wanted him almost whispering, 
so I provoked him and after a particularly vicious tantrum he was 
literally foaming at the mouth and utterly exhausted. Then I 
insisted we start shooting, and he did the speech in one single take. 
So sometimes I had to trick him into a performance, though he 
always believed he was doing it all himself. I knew how to nudge 
him, even trick and cheat him, just to get the best possible per- 
formance out of him. 

The way I communicated with Kinski was rather strange. A lot 
of the time we did not even use words, almost like a set of iden- 
tical twins. During the making of Fitzcarraldo we did takes where 
everything was just perfect, the camera and sound were flawless, 
the actors did not make a single mistake and JCinski was great. 
But I would say to him, 'Klaus, I think there is more to this. Turn 
the pig loose.' And somehow he knew what I was talking about, 
and 1 would roll it again and he would go straight into something 
new, something totally exceptional. Whenever I saw him go into 
one of those wild things, I would double over and had to muffle 
my laughter with a handkerchief for the sake of the sound 
recording, even if the scene was not funny at all. But he knew he 
was good when my face turned purple due to my suppressed 
laughter. And sometimes, even though the scene was coming to a 
close, I would not call 'cut', but let the camera continue rolling 
to see what might happen because I would see that Kinski was 
up to something. Kinski would kind of look at me out of the cor- 
ner of his eye, instantly sense I was not going to stop the camera 
and of course the whole thing would just explode and get even 
wilder and better than anything that had come before it. This 
sjTichronicity was quite incredible sometimes, and there were 
many times when we would communicate almost through these 
kinds of currents. I knew his hysterical energy and his so-called 
insanity, I understood his innermost qualities and how to evoke 
them, bring them to life before the camera. He felt safe working 
with me, and the closeness between us became such that we 


almost changed roles; I felt that if necessary I could have played 
the role of Fitzcarraldo, though not nearly as well as he did. 

Is the story of you threatening to kill him on the set of Aguirre 
really true? 

Yes. For Kinski to have left the set meant he would have violated a 
duty I felt was beyond and more important than each of us. I only 
told him very quietly that I would shoot him, but I had no rifle in 
my hand. He had enough instinct to understand this was no joke 
or hollow threat, and screamed for the police, even though the 
next outpost was 300 miles away. The press later wrote that I 
directed Kinski from behind the camera with a loaded gun, a beau- 
tiful image. I love the press for its ability to be so IjTical. 
The fact is Kinski was well known for breaking contracts and 
walking off films in the middle of shoots, and this was clearly 
unacceptable to me. In the middle of the opening night of a play he 
broke off in the middle of a speech, threw a lit candelabra into the 
audience and then wrapped himself in the carpet that was lying on 
the stage. He remained coiled in the carpet until the audience was 
cleared from die theatre. It was probably because he had forgotten 
his lines. Once, for insurance reasons, he had to have a check-up 
before we shot Aguirre. The doctor asked routine questions about 
allergies, hereditary diseases, and then: 'Mr Kinski, have you ever 
suffered from fits of any kind?' 'YES, EVERY DAY!' screamed 
Kinski at the highest pitch possible before he proceeded to lay 
waste to the doctor's office. 

In Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo you worked closely with the native 
Indians of Peru. How did they react to Kinski's antics? 

On Fitzcarraldo his raving fits strained things with the Indian 
extras. He was quite frightening to them and became a real prob- 
lem as the native Indians would solve their conflicts in a totally 
different manner. They would huddle together and whisper, keep- 
ing very quiet while listening to Kinski's tantrums. Towards the 
end of shooting one of the chiefs came to me and said, You prob- 
ably realized that we were afraid, but not for one moment were we 
scared of that screaming madman, shouting his head off.' They 
were actually afraid of me because I was so quiet. 


Kinski's fits can be explained partly by his egocentric character. 
Egocentric is perhaps not the right word; he was an outright ego- 
maniac. Whenever there was a serious accident it became a big 
problem because, all of a sudden, he was no longer the centre of 
attention. On Fitzcarraldo a lumberman was bitten by a snake 
while cutting a tree. This happened maybe once every three years 
even with hundreds of woodcutters in the jungle always working 
barefoot with their chain saws. The snakes naturally flee from the 
smell of gasoline and the noise. Suddenly a deadly poisonous snake 
struck the man twice. It only takes a few minutes before cardiac 
arrest occurs, so he thought about it for five seconds, grabbed the 
saw and cut off his foot. It saved his life because the camp and 
serum was twenty minutes away. When that happened, I knew 
Kinski would start raving with some trifling excuse, because now 
he was just a marginal figure. And he did not fail to throw a 

In another incident, a plane which was bringing six people to the 
jungle location crashed. Luckily they all survived, but some people 
were seriously injured. There were confusing and garbled reports 
on the radio and Kinski saw that he was no longer in demand, so 
he threw a fit claiming his coffee was only lukewarm that morning. 
For hours he screamed at me, three inches away from my face. I 
did not know how to calm him down because we needed to listen 
to the radio in case we needed to send a search party into the jun- 
gle. Then I had an inspiration. I went to my hut where for months 
I had hidden a piece of Swiss chocolate. We all would almost have 
killed one another for something like that. I went right into his face 
and ate the chocolate in front of him. All of a sudden he was quiet. 
It was just utterly beyond him. Towards the end of shooting, the 
Indians offered to kill Kinski for me. I declined at the time, sa3dng, 
'No, for God's sake! I still need him for shooting. Leave him to 
me.' But they were dead serious and if I had only given a nod they 
would have done it. 

Kinski was a peculiar mixture of physical cowardice and 
courage. A wasp could cause him to scream for his mosquito net 
and for a doctor with a syringe. And yet on Fitzcarraldo, I think it 
may have even been Kinski's idea to get on the boat as it went 
through the rapids. He said to me, 'If you go on board then I'm 
coming with you. If you sink, I shall sink too.' But he never liked 


the jungle or nature, even though he styled himself as the 'Natural 
Man'. I believe that everything he said about the jungle was just 
posing. He declared everything in the jungle erotic, but on Fitzcar- 
raldo he stayed in the camp for months and never set foot in the 
jungle. Once he penetrated it for about a hundred feet to where a 
fallen tree lay, and the photographer had to go with him to take 
hundreds of photos of him tenderly embracing and copulating 
with this tree. Poses and paraphernalia were what mattered to 
him. His alpine gear was more important than the mountains 
themselves. His camouflage combat fatigues, tailored by Yves Saint 
Laurent, were much more important than any jungle. In this 
regard, Kinski was endowed with a fair share of natural stupidity. 

Do you miss him? 

Maybe very rarely, I have to admit, but my relationship with him 
had ended some years before he died. There were moments in 
Cobra Verde that I will never forget. The final scene where he 
tries to push the boat out into the ocean is full of such despair, 
and Kinski is magnificent as he collapses into the water. But I 
knew at the time we could go no further after the film, and I told 
him so. There was nothing I would like to have discovered with 
him beyond that which I had already discovered in these five 
films. He had certain qualities I sensed and that we explored 
together, but anything beyond Cobra Verde would have been 

The final scene of Cobra Verde was the last day of shooting that 
we ever did together. He had put so much intensity into this final 
scene that he just fell apart afterwards. Even at the time we both 
sensed it, and he even said to me, 'We can go no further. I am no 
more.' He died in 1991 at his home north of San Francisco. He had 
just burnt himself out like a comet. Like me, Kinski was a very 
physical person, but in a different way. We complemented each 
other well because he drew everyone together. He attracted the 
herd magnetically and I held it together. Kinski was made for me, 
for my cinema. Sometimes I want to put my arm around him 
again, but I guess I only dream about this because I have seen this 
in old footage of the two of us. I do not regret a moment, not one. 
Maybe I do miss him. Yes, now and then I do miss him. 


After My Best Fiend come two shorts, The Lord and the Laden and 
Pilgrimage. Both are very much concerned with the question of 
faith and religious worship. 

Well, I am good with religious subjects and feel I understand them. 
Both films were made for television. For The Lord and the Laden, 
the network asked me to contribute to a series about 2,000 years 
of Christianity. I told them I wanted to do something about the 
church in Latin America, but that they should not expect anj^hing 
encyclopaedic because I knew I wanted to go to a very specific 
place. The main sequences are shot at the Basilica of the Virgin of 
Guadalupe in Tepeyac on the outskirts of Mexico City, and the 
main sequences are shot at a shrine to the Mayan god Maximon in 
San Andres Itzapa in Guatemala, where the mixture of paganism 
and Catholicism is very evident. There is nothing organized about 
the religious ceremonies you see in the film. It is in a private yard, 
regular people run the place, and worshippers do not have to pay 
anything to go there. 

The figure they are all worshipping is a mannequin in a glass 
case dressed like a ranchero. It is actually Maximon, an ancient 
Mayan god who is dressed up like a rich Spanish ranchero to show 
his power. Part of the veneration of this pagan god involves fumi- 
gating him with cigar smoke and putting cigarettes in his mouth, 
so lots of people are smoking. Worshippers also spit and spray 
alcohol over him and each other, part of a ritual of cleaning and 
purification in the presence of God. The Catholic church, not 
knowing what to do with this phenomenon, have kind of adopted 
Maximon. They want just a foot in the door to places like this and 
so they have squeezed a Catholic saint in there that everyone 
ignores. You would never see a Catholic priest there, and the 
whole place is completely chaotic and unorganized vnth no hier- 
archy or dogma. 

Were the books you show in the film actually real or did you make 
them yourself? 

During the making of the film I held in my hands, within two con- 
secutive days, two of the greatest treasures of humankind: the 
Codex Florentino and the Codex Telleriano-Remensis. They are 
most definitely real; you could never invent anything like these 


texts. For me the Codex Florentino is one of the greatest hon- 
ourable deeds of humankind. Even as the Aztec culture was being 
destroyed by the Spanish invaders, within all this destruction there 
was one man, Bernardino De Sahagiin, who, with a couple of 
other monks, started to collect accounts from Aztecs who still had 
the knowledge of their culture, their history, and all aspects of life. 
The work is a monumental achievement. Amidst all the destruc- 
tion this far-sighted monk tried to preserve the culture of the 
Aztecs for our memory, and even purposely mistranslated some of 
the original accounts in Nahuatl about their religion and human 
sacrifices, otherwise the Spanish Inquisition would have burnt the 

Pilgrimage is a beautiful little film you made for the BBC last year, 
part of the 'Sound and Film' series. How did you and composer 
John Tavener approach the project? 

When I first talked to the BBC I heard 'music and film', not 
'sound and film', which is the concept that the four other film- 
makers seemed to work with. So maybe Pilgrimage is slightly dif- 
ferent from the other films in the series. Of course Pilgrimage was 
also an opportunity to work with John Tavener,7 for me one of 
the greatest living composers. Initially I was very uncertain 
whether this would work because Tavener had always refused to 
write music for films. But in this case it was not writing music for 
a film, nor was I making a film to his music. It was to be music 
and images finding some common ground. So I contacted him to 
see if he was willing, and surprisingly - to me anjovay - he had 
heard of some of my films and immediately said he wanted to 
work with me. 

The context that Tavener and I worked within was religion. He 
is Greek Orthodox, while I experienced a short and dramatic reli- 
gious phase in my adolescence. This meant we approached the film 
from very much the same point of view, one that seemed quite 
obvious for both of us. I proposed that our collaboration should 
be about the fervour and woe of pilgrims and prayers and hopes. I 
wanted music that had a depth to it that seemed proper for prayer 
and religion, so it seemed very easy to make the right connection 
with him. When we first met we had such an instant concordance 


hearts that we did not even discuss the music or the film. He imme- 
diately knew what I wanted, and after he had played maybe 
twenty seconds on the piano, singing along, I just stopped him and 
said, 'John, stop this. Just compose it. I know what you are doing 

It is a short film, only eighteen minutes long, but for me it is an 
important work. The quote at the beginning of the film is from 
Thomas a Kempis, the mediaeval mystic: 'It is only the pilgrims 
who in the travails of their earthly voyage do not lose their way, 
whether our planet be frozen or scorched: they are guided by the 
same prayers, and suffering, and fervour, and woe.' If readers have 
had their eyes on the previous chapters of this book they would 
have smelt something the moment the text appeared: the quote is 
my invention. I had some other text in mind but John Tavener 
wrote a very fine letter full of passion and I immediately knew he 
was the melior pars and had the right to overrule me. 

Where did you shoot the film? 

In Mexico at the Basilica of the Virgin in Guadalupe. Pilgrims were 
arriving from all over the country. I know for a fact some came 
z8o kilometres on their knees. In most cases I did not speak to 
them. They were arriving exhausted, tormented and at the very 
end of their physical strength. You just do not start conversations 
with these people. The camera was never at much of a distance 
from them and if there was something that interested us we just 
moved in. We did not have much room for manoeuvre because 
there were six million pilgrims arriving in the space of two and a 
half days. It was important never to show exactly who or what the 
thousands upon thousands of pilgrims are actually venerating, or 
even where they are. For example, there is a man who holds a 
photo of his dead wife and talks to the image of the Virgin. We 
know nothing about him, yet through the images and the music in 
the context of the rest of the film we seem to know his entire story. 
Originally, I had some realistic sounds on the soundtrack that I 
had recorded in the basilica, but the moment I heard John's music 
I knew I had to leave it all out because the film and the pilgrimage 
would have been brought down to some pseudo-realistic almost 
day-to-day event. 


Recently you've returned to making feature films with Invincible. 
How much o f the film is based on fact? 

The film is vaguely based on a true story, one that can be told in 
three sentences. A young Jewish blacksmith, Sigmund 'Zishe' 
Breitbart, becomes a well-known figure in the world of variety in 
Vienna, Berlin and even Broadway in the early 1920s. He was 
apparently proud of his Jewish heritage and once even called him- 
self the 'New Samson'. He died from an absurd little accident 
when a nail scratched his knee. Breitbart was basically a show- 
business personality, not much more than that. 

One of Zishe's descendants, Gary Bart, had a large collection of 

photos, letters, newspaper reports and other documents about 
Zishe from the 1920s. There was also a screenplay in existence 
that I did not like. But a day after reading it I called Gary and said 
that I thought there was something big in Zishe's story, something 
everyone had overlooked. I asked him if he had the nerve to throw 
away his investment and told him that I would write a screenplay 
myself, which I did in nine days. I knew I had to reinvent Zishe for 
the film and transplant the character to the early 1930s because 
everything that is fascinating about the relationship between Ger- 
mans and Jews was exacerbated in that era and, of course, turned 
into the most monstrous crime and tragedy afterwards. Gary had 
the wisdom to let me do this. 

What was the budget? 

Slightly over six million dollars, though what we managed to put 
on the screen makes it look like we had a Hollywood budget of 
sixty million, which is what a Hollywood studio would have spent 
on a film like this. Finding money is always difficult, that is a 
natural concomitant of film production. But the money was found 
and the film was shot. 

What about Hanussen, the character played by Tim Roth? 

The character of Hanussen is based much more on reality than 
Zishe. More is known about him because he published his own 
magazine and books, including one in the 1920s about how to 
cheat as a clairvoyant. Later, when he was forging a career as an 


entertainer and psychic, he tried to suppress the book. Hanussen 
stepped into the role of a clairvoyant because it paid much more 
and the climate of the early 1930s demanded a seer, someone 
who could give real perspective amongst all the political chaos 
and turmoil of the times with bank collapses, unemployment and 
attempted coups. He made himself into a Danish aristocrat with 
his stage name Erik Jan Hanussen, though he was actually a 
Czech Jew whose real name was Herschel Steinschneider. 
Hanussen claimed to have predicted Hitler's victory in the 
November 193 z election and in the film talks about 'the figure of 
light that has come among us'. But in reality he did something all 
seers do. He bet on all the horses, predicting the victories of 
Schleicher, Briining and von Papen as well. After the election he 
pointed only to the paragraph he had written about Hitler's 

Invincible is also probably the only film about Germany and the 
Nazis that does not inevitably end with the Holocaust. It ends on 
z8 January 1933, two days before Hitler takes power. Of course it 
was my choice to transplant Zishe's story to the early 1930s when 



the Nazis were gaining power, but I did this simply because it made 
the story more obvious. The scenes in court between Zishe and 
Hanussen become more than just legal battles as Hanussen's real 
identity as a Jew is revealed. He had compromised too many high- 
ranking Nazi party members and this seems to be the reason he 
was abducted, riddled with bullets and half eaten by wild boar. 

We're at the end now, so let me ask you if there have been any big 
disappointments in your career. 

Not really. I have learned how to cope with flops and bad press. I 
can handle it and have never hung around licking my wounds. 
Failures, yes of course. But disappointments, not really. I know 
something that young filmmakers need to learn very early on: a 
perfect film does not exist. Filmmakers will always, no matter how 
much time they tinker away at this scene or this frame, have a 
sense that there are defects in their films that are amplified a thou- 
sand times in front of audiences. As a filmmaker you simply have 
to learn to live with this, the same way a parent has to live with his 
children. One might have a stammer, the other has a squint, the 
third one limps. But you love them even more because they are not 
perfect. To you there is a certain perfection there anj^way, no mat- 
ter what anyone else thinks. 

As a filmmaker though, sometimes I do wonder whether what I 
do is utterly immaterial. Cinema might give us some insight into 
our own lives, it might change our perspective of things, but there 
is much that is absurd about it too. Cinema is only a projection of 
light; it is immaterial and this life can easily turn you into a clown. 
The lives of film directors have frequently ended badly, even the 
most powerful and strongest of them. Just look at what happened 
to Orson Welles or Buster Keaton. The strongest of the animals 
have all been brought to their knees eventually. A farmer who 
grows potatoes is never ridiculous, nor is a cook who prepares 
dishes. I have seen very dignified ninety-year-old cello players and 
even photographers, but never filmmakers. My way of dealing 
with the inevitable is to step out of filmmaking whenever I can. I 
travel on foot, I direct operas, I raise children, I am learning to 
cook professionally, I vmte. Things that give me independence 
outside the world of cinema. 


Before we finish, have you any final advice for your readers? 

Well, I recently saw a film celebrating the life of Katharine 
Hepburn, whom I actually like as an actress. It was some kind of 
homage to her but unfortunately it turns out that she has these 
vanilla ice-cream emotions. At the end she is sitting on a rock by 
the ocean and someone off-camera asks her, 'Ms Hepburn, what 
would you like to pass on to the young generation?' She swallows, 
tears are welling, she takes a lot of time as if she were thinking very 
deeply about it all, then she looks straight into the camera and 
says, 'Listen to the Song of Life.' And the film ends. 
I was cringing it hurt so much. I still smart just thinking about 
it. And hearing this was such a blow that I even wrote it into the 
Minnesota Declaration, Article Ten, which I repeat here and now 
for you, Paul. I look you right in the eye and say, 'Don't you ever 
listen to the Song of Life.' 


1 Richard Kelly's The Name of This Book Is Dogme 95 (Faber and 
Faber, 2000) contains a series of interviews that explain and explore 
this phenomenon of modem cinema and also includes the 'Vow of 

2 Willy Brandt (1913-92, Germany) was elected mayor of West Berlin 
in 1957 and from 1969 to 1974 was the first post-war Social 
Democratic Party Chancellor of West Germany. From 1974 to 1987 
he was SDP party chairman. 

3 See Grass's essay Twin States - One Nation?: The Case Against 
German Reunification (Seeker and Warburg, 1990). 

4 Bruce Chatwin (1940-89, UK) was a writer and traveller, author of 
several books including In Patagonia (1977), The SongKnes (1987) 
and What Am I Doing Here (1989). See Chatwin's essay "The 
Nomadic Alternative' (1970) in Anatomy of Restlessness (Picador, 
1996) and Nicholas Shakespeare's biography Bruce Chatwin 
(Vintage, 1999). 

5 Kinder, Mutter und ein General (1955), directed by Laszlo Benedek. 

6 Kinski Uncut (Bloomsbury, 1997) and Ich brauche Liebe (Wilhelm 
Heyne Verlag, 1991). The German edition of the book was cut sub- 
stantially when translated into English. 

7 John Tavener (b. 1944, UK) is a leading composer of works such as 
The Whale (1968), The Protecting Veil (1987) and Song for Athene, 
performed at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, in 1998. See 
also his book The Music of Silence (Faber and Faber, 1999). 


The Minnesota Dedarcitbn 
Truth and fioct in documentatvdnema 

by Werner Herzog 

1. By dint of declaration the so-called Cinema Verite is devoid of verite. 
It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants. 

2. One well-known representative of Cinema Verite declared publicly that 
truth can be easily found by taking a camera and trying to be honest. 
He resembles the night watchman at the Supreme Court who resents 
the amount of written law and legal procedures. 'For me,' he says, 
'there should be only one single law: the bad guys should go to jail.' 
Unfortunately, he is part right, for most of the many, much of the time. 

3. Cinema Verite confounds fact and truth, and thus plows only stones. 
And yet, facts sometimes have a strange and bizarre power that makes 
their inherent truth seem unbelievable. 

4. Fact creates norms, and truth illumination. 

5. There are deeper strata of truth in cinema, and there is such a thing as 
poetic, ecstatic truth. It is mysterious and elusive, and can be reached 
only through fabrication and imagination and stylization. 

6. Filmmakers of Cinema Verite resemble tourists who take pictures 

amid ancient ruins of facts. 

7. Tourism is sin, and travel on foot virtue. 

S.Each year at springtime scores of people on snowmobiles crash 
through the melting ice on the lakes of Minnesota and drown. Pres- 
sure is mounting on the new governor to pass a protective law. He, the 
former wrestler and bodyguard, has the only sage answer to this: 'You 
can't legislate stupidity.' 

g.The gauntlet is hereby thrown down. 

10. The moon is dull. Mother Nature doesn't call, doesn't speak to you, 
although a glacier eventually farts. And don't you listen to the Song 
of Life. 


11. We ought to be grateful that the Universe out there knows no smile. 

12. Life in the oceans must be sheer hell. A vast, merciless hell of perma- 
nent and immediate danger. So much of a hell that during evolution 
some species - including man - crawled, fled onto some small conti- 
nents of solid land, where the Lessons of Darkness continue. 

Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota 

April 30, 1999 





Short feature, 12 minutes, 35 mm, b/w 

Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photograpliy: Jaime Pacheco 

Editor: Werner Herzog 

Sound Engineer: Werner Herzog 

Assistant Set: Uwe Brandner 

Music: Uwe Brandner 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Cast: Mr Germany 1962 


Spiel im Sand (Game in the Sand) 

'Documentary', 14 minutes, 35 mm, b/w 
Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Werner Herzog 
Director of Photography: Jaime Pacheco 

Editor: Werner Herzog 
Music: Uwe Brandner 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 


Die beispiellose Verteidigung der Festung Deutschkreutz 
(The Unprecedented Defence of the Fortress Deutschkreuz) 

Short feature, 15 minutes, 3 5 mm, b/w 
Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Werner Herzog 


Director of Photography: Jaime Pacheco 

Editor: Werner Herzog 

Sound Engineer: Uwe Brandner 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 

Location: Deutschkreuz (Austria) 

Premiered: Oberhausen Film Festival 1967 

Cast: Peter Brumm, Georg Eska, Karl-Heinz Steffel, Wolfgang von 


Lebenszeichen (Signs of Life) 

Feature, 87 minutes, 35 mm, b/w 
Director/screenplay. Werner Herzog 
Producer: Werner Herzog 
Director of Photography: Thomas Mauch 
Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 
Sound Engineer: Herbert Prasch 
Music: Stavros Xarchaskos 
Assistant Director: Martje Grohmann 
Assistant Camera: Dieter Lohmann 
Assistant Editor: Maximiliane Mainka 
Production Manager: Nicos Triandafyllidis 

Assistant Production ManagersiThasas Karabelas, Mike Piller, Florian 

Fricke, Thomas Hartwig, Friederike Pezold 

Continuity: Ina Fritsche 

Still Photography: Bettina von Waldthausen 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 

Location: Crete and Kos (Greece) 

Premiered: Munich, 5 July 1968 

Cast: Peter Brogle (Stroszek), Wolfgang Reichmann (Meinhard), Athina 
Zacharopoulou (Nora), Wolfgang von Ungern-Sternberg (Becker), 
Wolfgang Stumpf (Captain), Flenry van Lyck (Lieutenant), Florian 
Fricke (Pianist), Dr Heinz Usener (Doctor), Achmed Hafiz (Greek 
resident), Julio Pinheiro (GjTpsy) 


Letzte Worte (Last Words) 

Short feature, 13 minutes, 35 mm, b/w 
Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Werner Herzog 
Director of Photography: Thomas Mauch 
Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 
Sound Engineer: Herbert Prasch 
Music: Folkmusic of Crete 


Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Location: Crete 

Premiered: Oberhausen Film Festivaol 1968 


Massnahmen Gegen Fanatiker (Precautions against Fanatics) 

Short feature, 12 minutes, 35 mm, colour 

Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Dieter Lohmann 

Assistant Camera: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 

Editor: Beats Mainka-Jellinghaus 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 

Location: Munich 

Premiered: Oberhausen Film Festival 1969 

Cast: Petar Radenkovic, Mario Adorf, Hans Tiedemann, Herbert Hisel, 
Peter Schamoni 


Die fliegenden Arzte von Ostafrika (The Flying Doctors of East 

'Documentary', 45 minutes, 35 mm, colour 
Director: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Werner Herzog 
Executive Producer: Eleonore Semler 
Director of Photography: Thomas Mauch 
Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 
Narrator: Wilfried Klaus 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Gesellschaft fiir Medizin und Forschung in Afrika e.V. 
Location: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania 
Premiered: 3 March 1970 (television) 

Participants: Dr Michael Wood, Dr Ann Spoery, Betty Miller, James 



Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen (Even Dwarfs Started 

Feature, 96 minutes, 35 mm, b/w 
Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Werner Herzog 
Production Manager: Francisco Ariza 
Director of Photography: Thomas Mauch 
Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 
Sound Engineer: Herbert Prasch 

Music: Florian Fricke (Popol Vuh) and folksongs of the Ivory Coast, 
West Africa, Canary Islands 


Assistant Camera: Jorg Schmidt-Rcitwein 
Assistant Editor: Maximiliane Mainka 

Assistant Set: James William Gledhill, Martje Grohmann, Feiisa 

Martin, Walter Saxer, Wolfgang von Ungern-Stemberg 

Continuity: Ina Fritsche 

Still Photography: Bettina von Waldthausen 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 

Location: Lanzarote, Canary Islands 

Premiered: Cannes Film Festival 1970 

Cast: Helmut Doring (Hombre), Gerd Gickel (Pepe), Paul Glauer 
(Erzieher), Erna Gschwendtner (Aziicar), Gisela Hertwig (Pobrecita), 
Gerhard Marz (Territory), Hertel Minkner (Chicklets), Alfredo Piccini 
(Anselmo), Gertraut Piccini (Piccini), Brigitte Saar (Cochina), Marianne 
Saar (Theresa), Erna Smolarz (Schweppes), Lajos Zsarnoczay 


Fata Morgana 

'Documentary', 79 minutes, 3 5 mm, colour 

Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 

Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 

Narrator: Lotte Eisner 

Music: Leonard Cohen, Blind Faith, Couperin, Mozart, Handel 
Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Location: Southern Sahara, Cameroon, Canary Islands 
Premiered: Cannes Film Festival 1971 

Cast: Wolfgang von Ungern-Stemberg, James William Gledhill, Eugen 
des Montagues 


Behinderte Zukunft (Handicapped Future) 

'Documentary', 43 minutes, 16 mm, colour 

Director: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 

Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 

Narrator: Rolf lUig 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Location: Munich and California 


Land des Schweigens und der Dunkelheit (Land of Silence 
and Darkness) 

'Documentary', 85 minutes, 16 mm, colour 


Director: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 

Editor: Beate Mainka-JeUinghaus 

Music: J. S. Bach, Vivaldi 
Narrator: Rolf Illig 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Location: Munich, Niederbayern, Hannover 
Premiered: Mannheim Film Festival 1971 

Participants: Fini Straubinger, Else Fahrer, Ursula Riedmeier, Joseph 
Riedmeier, Vlamimir Kokol, Heinrich Fleischmann, Resi Mittermeier 


Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (Aguirre, the Wrath of God) 

Feature, 93 minutes, 35 mm, colour 

Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Thomas Mauch 

Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 

Production Managers: Walter Saxer, Lucki Stipetic 

Re-recording Mixer: Bob Oliver 

znd Camera: Francisco Joan 

Sound Engineer: Herbert Prasch 

Special Effects: Juvenal Herrera, Miguel Vazquez 

Assistant Camera: Orlando Macchiavello 

Assistant Production: Martje Grohmann, Dr Georg Hagmiiller, Ina 
Pritsche, Rene Lechleitner, Ovidio Ore, Gustavo Cerff Arublii 
Music: Florian Fricke (Popol Vuh) 
Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Hessischer Rundfunk 

Location: Peru (Urubamba Valley, River Huallaga, River Nanay, Cuzco) 
Cast: JClaus Rinski (Lope de Aguirre), Helena Rojo (Inez de Atienza), 

Del Negro (Carvajal), Ruy Guerra (Ursiia), Peter Berling (Guzman), 
Cecilia Rivera (Flores), Daniel Ades (Perucho), Armando Polanah 
(Armando), Edward Roland (Okello) and Daniel Farfan, Julio Martinez, 
Alejandro RepuUes, the Indians of the Lauramarca Co-operative, Peru 


Die Grosse Ekstase des Bildschnitzers Steiner (The Great 
Ecstasy of 

Woodcarver Steiner) 

'Documentary', 47 minutes, 16 mm, colour 

Director: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 


Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 
Production Manager: Walter Saxer 

znd Camera: Francisco Joan, Frederik Hettich, Alfred Chrosziel, Gideon 

Sound Engineer: Benedikt Kuby 

Assistant Set: Feli Sommer 

Music: Florian Fricke (Popol Vuh) 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Fi Iniproduktion 

Co-Producers: Siiddeutscher Rundfunk, Stuttgart 

Location: Oberstdorf and Garmisch-Partenkirchen (Germany), Planica 

(Yugoslavia, now Slovenia) 

Premiered: Munich, T4 November 1974 

Participant: Walter Steiner 


Jeder fiir sich und Gott gegen alle (The Enigma of Kaspar 

Feature, 109 minutes, 35 mm, colour 

Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 

Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 

Production Manager: Walter Saxer 

Set Design: Henning von Gierke 

Costume Design: Gisela Storch 

Sound Engineer: Haymo Henry Heyder 

Light Design: Dietmar Zander 

Assistant Director: Benedikt Kuby 

Make-up and Hair: Susanne Schroder 

znd Camera: Klaus Wyborny 

Assistant Camera: Michael Gast 

Assistant Editor: Martha Lederer 

Assistant Sound: Peter van Anft 

Unit Manager: Christian Weisenborn 

Assistant Costumes: Ann Poppel 

Assistant Production: Joschi N. Arpa 

Production Secretary: Anja Schmidt-Zaringer 

Continuity: Feli Sommer 

Still Photography: Gunther Freyse 

Music: Florian Fricke (Popol Vuh), Mozart, Pachelbel, di Lasso, 
Albinoni Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Zweites Deutsches Femsehen (ZDF) 
Location: Dinkelsbiihl 
Premiered: Dinkelsbiihl, 1 November 1974 

Cast: Bruno S. (Kaspar), Walter Ladengast (Daumer), Brigitte Mira 


(Kathe), Hans Musaus (Unknown), Willy Semmelroggc (Circus Direc- 
tor), Michael Kroccher (Stanhope), Henry van Lyck (Cavalry Captain), 
Enno Patalas (Vicar Fuhrmann), Elis Pilgrim (Second Vicar), Volker 
Prechtel (Hiltel), Gloria Doer (Mrs. Hiltel), Helmut Doring (The Little 
King), Kidlat Tahimik (Hombrecito), Andi Gottwald (Young Mozart), 
Herbert Achternbusch (ist Country Lad), Wolfgang Bauer (2nd Country 
Lad), Walter Steiner (3rd Country Lad), Florian Fricke (Mr Florian), 
Clemens Scheitz (Scribe), Johannes Buzalski (Police Officer), Dr Willy 
Meyer- Fiirst (Doctor), Alfred Edel (Professor of Logic), Franz 
Brumbach (Showman with Bear), Herbert Fritsch (Mayor), Wilhelm 
Bayer (Household Cavalry Captain), Peter Gebhart (Cobbler who finds 
Kaspar), Otto Heinzle (Old Priest), Dorothea Kraft (Litfle Girl) 


Herz Aus Glas (Heart of Glass) 

Feature, 97 minutes, 35 mm, colour 

Director: Werner Herzog 

Screenplay adaptation: Herbert Achternbusch 

Producer: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 

Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 

Production Manager: Walter Saxer 

Set Design: Henning von Gierke 

Costume Design: Gisela Storch 

Sound Engineer: Hajmio Henry Heyder 

Light Design: Alfred Huck 

Assistant Camera: Michael Gast 

Assistant Editor: Angelika Dreis 

Assistant Set: Cornelius Siegel 

Assistant Costumes: Ann Poppel 

Assistant Sound: Peter van Anft 

Continuity: Regine Krejci 

Assistant Production Manager: Joschi Arpa 

Production Secretary: Anja Schmidt-Zahringer 

Still Photography: Gunther Freyse 

Collaborators: Dr Claude Chiarini, Ina Fritsche, Alan Greenberg, 



Music: Florian Fricke (Popol Vuh), Studio der Friihen Musik 
Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Zweites Deutsches Femsehen (ZDF) 
Location: Bavaria, Alaska, Ireland 
Premiered: Paris Film Festival 1976 

Cast: Josef Bierbichler (Hias), Stefan Giirtler (Factory Owner), Clemens 
Scheitz (Adalbert), Volker Prechtel (Wudy), Sonja Skiba (Ludmilla), 


Bninhilde Klockner (Paulin), Wolf Albrccht (Sam), Thomas Binkley 
(Lute Player), Janos Fischer (Agide), Wilhelm Friedrich (Factory 
Owner's Father), Edith Gratz (Innkeeper's Wife), Alois Hruschka 
(Gigl), Egmont Hiigel (Harp-Toni), Sterling Jones and Richard Levitt 
(Musicians), Wolfram Kunkel (Hurdy Gurdy Man), Werner Lederle 
(Innkeeper), Sepp Miiller (Ascherl), Agnes Nuissl (Anamirl), Andrea 
von Ramm (Singer), Helmut Kossik, Amad Ibn Ghassem Nadij, Bern- 
hard Schabel, Friedrich Steinhauer (Farmers), Joschi Arpa (The Liar), 
Claude Chiarini (The Thief), Martje Herzog (Peasant Woman), Werner 
Herzog, Herbert Achfembusch (Glass Carriers), Helmut JCriiger 


Mit mir will keiner spielen (No One Will Play with Me) 

'Documentary', 14 minutes, 16 mm, colour 

Director: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 

Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 

Sound Engineer: Haymo Henry Heyder 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 

Location: Munich 


How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck 

'Documentary', 45 minutes, 16 mm, colour 

Director: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Thomas Mauch 

Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 

Production Manager: Walter Saxer 

ind Camera Unit: Ed Lachman, Francisco Joan 

Sound Engineer: Walter Saxer 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Siiddeutscher Rundfunk, Stuttgart 
Location: New Holland, Pennsylvania 
Premiered: 14 February 1977 (television) 

Participants: Steve Liptay, Ralph Wade, Alan Ball, Abe Diffenbach and 
competitors at the World Championship of Livestock Auctioneers 



Feature, 108 minutes, 35 mm, colour 
Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 


Producer: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Thomas Mauch 

Editor: Beate Mainka-JeUinghaus 

Production Manager: Walter Saxer 

Set Design: Henning von Gierke 

Assistant Set Design: Cornelius Siegel 

znd Camera Unit: Ed Lachman 

Sound Engineer: Hay mo Henry Hey der 

Light Design: Dieter Bahr 

Assistant Director: Ed Lachman 

Assistant Camera: Wolfgang Knigge (Berlin), Stefano Guidi (USA) 
Assistant Set: Anja Schmidr-Zaringer 
Assistant Sound: Peter van Anft 
Continuity: Anja Schmidt-Zaringer 
Still Photography: Gunther Freyse 

Music: Chet Atkins, Sonny Terry, Tom Paxton, Beethoven 
Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Zweites Deutsches Femsehen (ZDF) 
Location: Berlin, New York, Wisconsin. North Carolina 
Premiered: Munich, 20 May 1977 

Cast: Bruno S. (Stroszek), Eva Mattes (Eva), Clemens Scheitz (Scheitz), 
Wilhelm von Homburg, Burkhard Driest, Pitt Bedewitz (Pimps), 

Szlapinski (Mechanic), Ely Rodriguez (Indian), Alfred Edel (Prison 
Warden), Scott McKain (Bank Employee), Ralph Wade (Auctioneer), 
Dr Vaclav Vojta (Doctor), Michael Gahr (Prisoner Ross), Yiicsel 
Topeugiirler (Turkish Prisoner), Der Brave Beo (Talking Bird) 


La Soufriere 

'Documentary', 44 minutes, 16 mm, colour 
Director: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Werner Herzog 

Directors of Photography: Jorg Schmidt- Reitwein, Ed Lachman 

Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 

Production Manager: Walter Saxer 

Narrator: Werner Herzog 

Sound Engineer: Werner Herzog 

Music: Rachmaninov, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Wagner 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 

Co-Producers: Siiddeutscher Rundfunk, Stuttgart 

Location: Guadeloupe 

Premiered: Bonn, March 1977 



Nosferatu - Phantom der Nacht (Nosferatu the Vampyre) 

Feature, 103 minutes, 35 mm, colour 

Director: Werner Herzog 

Screenplay: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 

Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 

Production Managers: Walter Saxer, Rudolf Wolf 

Set Design: Kenning von Gierke, Ulrich Bergfelder 

Costume Design: Gisela Storch 

2nd Camera Unit: Michael Gast 

Sound Engineer: Harald Maury 

Make-up and Hair: Reiko Kruk, Dominique CoUadant, Ludovic Paris 
Props: Hans Oosterhuis 
Special Effects: Cornelius Siegel 

Light Design: Martin Gerbl, Anton Urban, Erich Labermair 
Assistant Director: Remmelt Remmelts 

Assistant Set: Josef Arpa, Mirko Tichacek 

Assistant Costume: Annegret Poppel, Ciaire Fraisse (Adjani), Anne Jud, 

Elisabeth Irmer (Holland) 

Assistant Sound: Jean Fontaine 

Assistant Make-up and Hair: Dominique Colladon 

Continuity: Anja Schmidt-Zaringer 

Still Photography: Dr Claude Chiarini 

Dialogue Coach: Beverly Walker 

Production Manager (France): Jean-Paul Gibon 

Production Manager (Netherlands): Jaap van Rij 

Production Manager (Czech Republic): Rudolf Wolf 

Production Assistant: Hetty Los 

Music: Florian Fricke (Popol Vuh), Wagner, Gounod 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 

Co-Producers: Gaumont, Zweites Deutsches Femsehen (ZDF) 

Premiered: Vans, 10 January 1979 

Location: Czech Republic, Netherlands, Mexico 

Cast: Klaus Kinski (Count Dracula), Isabelle Adjani (Lucy Harker), 

Bruno Ganz (Jonathan Harker), Jaques Dufilho (Captain), Roland 

Topor (Renfield), Walter Ladengast (Dr van Heising), Dan van Husen 

(Warden), Roger Berry Losch (First Mate), Jan Groth (Harbourmaster), 

Carsten Bodinus (Schrader), Martje Grohmann (Mina), Ryk de Gooyer 

(Official), Clemens Scheitz (Town Employee), Lo van Hembergen 

(Inspector), John Leddy (Coachman), Margiet van Hartingsveld (Maid), 

Tim Beekman (Coffinbearer), Beverly Walker (Mother Superior), Johan 

te Slaa (Bellman), Claude Chiarini (Customsman) 




Feature, 81 minutes, 35 mm, colour 
Director: Werner Herzog 

Screenplay: Werner Herzog (from the drama-fragment by Georg 


Producer: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 

Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 

Production Managers: Walter Saxer 

Set Design: Henning von Gierke 

Costume Design: Gisela Storch 

2nd Camera Unit: Michael Gast 

Sound Engineer: Harald Maury 

Props: Ulrich Bergfelder 

Light Design: Martin Gerbl 

Assistant Lighting: Anton Urban 

Assistant Director: Mirko Tichacek 

Assistant Costume: Ann Poppel 

Assistant Sound: Jean Fontaine 

Continuity: Anja Schmidt-Zaringer 

Still Photography: Dr Claude Chiarini 

Music: Fiedelquartett Tele, Rudolf Obruca, Benedetto Marcello, Vivaldi 
Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Zweites Deutsches Femsehen (ZDF) 
Location: Czech Republic 
Premiered: Cannes Film Festival 1979 

Cast: Klaus Kinski (Woyzeck), Eva Mattes (Marie), Wolfgang Reich- 
mann (Hauptmann), Willy Semmelrogge (Doctor), Josef Bierbichler 
(Drum-Major), Paul Burian (Andres), Volker Prechtel (Journeyman), 
Dieter Augustin (Market Crier), Irm Hermann (Margret), Wolfgang 
Bachler (Jude), Rosy- Rosy Heinikel (Kathe), Herbert Fux (Subaltern), 
Thomas Mettke (Innkeeper), Maria Mettke (Innkeeper's Wife) 


God's Angry Man (Glaube und Wahrung) 

'Documentary', 44 minutes, 16 mm, colour 
Director: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Werner Herzog 
Director of Photography: Thomas Mauch 
Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 
Production Manager: Walter Saxer 
Production Assistant: Richard Cybulski 
Sound Engineer: Walter Saxer 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 


Co-Producers: Suddeutscher Rundfunk, Stuttgart 
Location: Glendale, California 
Premiered: 17 May 1981 (television) 
Participant: Dr Gene Scott 


Huie's Sermon (Huie's Predigt) 

'Documentary', 43 minutes, 16 mm, colour 
Director: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Werner Herzog 
Director of Photography: Thomas Mauch 
Editor: Beate Mainka-Jelhnghaus 
Production Assistant: Richard Cybulski 
2nd Camera Unit: Ed Lachman 
Sound Engineer: Walter Saxer 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Film Produktion 
Co-Producers: Siiddeutscher Rundfunk, Stuttgart 
Location: Brookl5m, New York 
Premiered: 14 June 1981 (television) 
Participant: Bishop Huie L. Rogers 



Feature, 137 minutes, 35 mm, colour 

Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 

Producers: Lucki Stipetic, Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Thomas Mauch 

Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 

Production Manager: Walter Saxer 

Sound Editor: Petra Mantoudis 

Set Design: Henning von Gierke 

Costume Design: Gisela Storch 

2nd Camera Unit: Rainer BQausmann 

Sound Engineer: Dagoberto Juarez 

Make-up and Hair: Stefano Fava, Gloria Fava 

Special Effects: Miguel Vazquez 

Light Design: Raimund Wirner, Hans-Peter Vogt 

Assistant Director: Jorge Vignati 

Assistant Camera: Beat Presser 

Assistant Editor: Carola Mai, Linda Kuusisto 

Assistant Set: Ulrich Bergfelder 

Assistant Costume: Franz Blumauer 

Assistant Sound: Zeze D'Alice 

Assistant Make-up and Hair: Jacques Monteiro, Carlos Prieto 


Continuity: Anja Schmidt-Zaringer 
Still Photography: Beat Presser 
Dialogue Coach: William L. Rose 
Music: Florian Fricke (Popol Vuh), Verdi, Bellini 
Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), Pro-jekt Film- 
produktion im Filmverlag der Autoren 

Location: Iquitos, Rio Camisea (Peru), Manaus and Iquitos (Brazil) 
Premiered: Munich, 5 March 1982 

Cast: JQaus BCinski (Brian Sweeny 'Fitzcarraldo' Fitzgerald), Claudia 
Cardinale (Molly), Jose Lewgoy (Don Aquilino), Paul Hittscher (Cap- 
tain), Huerequeque Enrique Bohorquez (Huerequeque), Miguel Angel 
Fuentes (Cholo), Rui Polanah (Don Araujo), Dieter Milz (Young Padre), 
Salvador Godinez (Old Padre), Grande Othelo (Station Master), Milton 
Nascimento (Black Doorman), Bill Rose (Lawyer), Jorge Vignati (ist 
Sailor), Leoncio Bueno (Police Lieutenant), Peter Berling (Director of 
Manaus Opera House) with Ashininka-Campa Indians of the Gran 
Pajonal; Cast of Manaus opera house: Costante Moret (voice Veriano 
Luchetti) (Enrico Caruso - Ernani), Dimiter Petkov (Silva), Jean-Claude 
Dreyfuss (voice Mietta Sighele) (Sarah Bernardt - Elvira), Lourdes Mag- 
alhaes (Orchestra Pit Singer), Isabel Jimenes de Cisneros (Donna 

Liborio Simonella (Arturo), Jesus Goiri (Giorgio), Christian Mantilla 
(Walton), Veneta Philarmonia conducted by Giorgio Croci. Sequence in 
Teatro Amazones (Manaus) directed by Werner Schroeter; Opera on the 
boat, Bellini's Puritam, Orquesta Sinfonica des Repertorio, Lima, con- 
ducted by Manuel Cuadros Barr 


Ballade vom kleinen Soldaten (Ballad of the Little Soldier) 

'Documentary', 45 minutes, 16 mm, colour 

Director: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Lucki Stipetic 

Director of Photography: Jorge Vignati 

Editor: Maximiliane Mainka 

Assistant Editor: Draha Cizek 

Sound Engineer: Christine Ebenberger 

Assistant Director: Denis Reichle 

znd Camera Unit: Michael Edols 

Music: Folksongs: 'Mochila Azul' (Singer Isidoro Reyes), 'Dame la 
Mano', 'Evening Song', 'Beautiful Miskito Woman' (singer Paladino 
Taylor), 'Flor de mi amor' (singer Isidoro Reyes) 
Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Siiddeutscher Rundfunk, Stuttgart 
Location: Nicaragua and Honduras 


Premiered: 5 November 1984 (television) 
Participants: Miskito Indians of Nicaragua 


Gasherbrum - Der leuchtende Berg (The Dark Glow of the 

'Documentary', 45 minutes, 16 mm, colour 
Director: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Lucki Stipetic 
Director of Photography: Rainer Klausmann 
Editor: Maximiliane Mainka 
2nd Camera Unit: Jorge Vignati 
Additional Photography: Reinhold Messner 
Sound Engineer: Christine Ebenberger 

Music: Florian Fricke (Popol Vuh), Renate Knaup, Daniel Fichelscher 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 

Co-Producers: Siiddeutscher Rundfunk, Stuttgart 

Location: Karakorum (Pakistan) 

Premiered: 23 June 1985 (television) 

Participants: Reinhold Messner, Hans Kammerlander 


Where the Green Ants Dream (Wo die griinen Ameisen 

Feature, 100 minutes, 35 mm, colour 

Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Lucki Stipetic 

Director of Photography: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 
Editor: Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus 

Production co-ordinator (Australia): Tony Llewellyn-Jones 

Set Design: Ulrich Bergfelder 

Costume Design: Frances D. Hogan 

Sound Engineer: Claus Langer 

Special Effects: Brian Pearce 

Light Design: Manfred Klein 

Assistant Camera: Michael Edols 

Assistant Sound: Peter Rappel 

Continuity: Christine Ebenberger 

Additional Dialogue: Bob Ellis 

Advisers Aborigines Affairs: Gary Foley, Jennifer Home 
Still Photography: Paul Cox 

Music: Faure, Bloch, Wagner, JQaus-Jochen Wiese, Aboriginal music by 
Wandjuk Marika 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) 
Location: Coober Pedy, Melbourne 


Premiered: Cannes Film Festival 1984 

Cast: Bruce Spence (Hackett), Wandjuk Marika (Miliritbi), Roy Marika 
(Dayipu), Ray Barrett (Cole), Norman Kaye (Ferguson), Colleen Clifford 
(Miss Strehlow), Ralph Cotterill (Fletcher), Nicolas Lathouris (Arnold), 
Basil Clarke (Judge Blackburn), Ray Marshall (Coulthard), Dhungala I. 
Marika (Malila), Gary Williams (Watson), Tony Llewellyn-Jones 
(Fitzsimmons), Marraru Wunungmurra (Daisy Barunga), Robert Bris- 
senden (Professor Stanner) 


Cobra Verde 

Feature, 110 minutes, 35 mm, colour 
Director: Werner Herzog 

Screenplay: Werner Herzog (from the novel The Viceroy of Ouidah by 

Bruce Chatwin) 

Producer: Lucki Stipetic 

Director of Photography: Victor Riizicka 

Editor: Maximiliane Mainka 

Production Manager: Walter Saxer 

Assistant Production Manager: Salvatore Basile 

Sound Editor: Friedrich M. Dosch 

Mixer: Milan Bor 

Set Design: Ulrich Bergfelder 

Costume Design: Gisela Storch 

2nd Camera Unit: Jorge Ruiz, William Sefa 

Sound Engineer: Haymo Henry Heyder 

Assistant Sound Editor: Hans Zeiler 

Make-up and Hair: Berthold Sack 

Props: Bernd Grotzke 

Light Design: Martin Gerbl 

Assistant Director: Christine Ebenberger 

Assistant Camera: Hermann Fahr 

Assistant Editor: Rainer Standke 

Assistant Set: Fernando Umana (Columbia), Ina Liiders, Antonio 

Jordao Gomes da Costa (Ghana) 

Assistant Costumes: Silvia Grabowski 

Assistant Sound: Rudolf Hellwig 

Continuity: Anja Schmidt-Zaringer 

Still Photography: Beat Presser 

Music: Florian Fricke (Popol Vuh) 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 

Co-Producers: Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) 

Location: Elmina and Tamale (Ghana), Cartagena, Call and Guajira 



Premiered: Munich, 3 December 1987 
Cast: JQaus Rinski (Francisco Manoel da Silva), BCing Ampaw 
(Taparica), Jose Lewgoy (Don Octavio Coutinho), Salvatore Basile 
(Captain Fraternidade), Peter Beding (Bernabo), Gillermo Coronel 
(Euclides), His Royal Highness King Nana Agyefi Kwame II of Nsein 
(Bossa Ahadee), Yolanda Garcia (Dona Epiphania), Nana Fedu Abodo 
(Yovogan), Kofi Yerenkyi (Bakoko), Kwesi Fase (Kankpe), Benito 
Stefanelli (Captain Pedro Vicente), Kofi Bryan (Messenger of Bossa 
Ahadee), Carlos Mayolo (Governor), Zigi Cultural Troupe HO, Ziavi 
(Singing Girls) 


Les Francais Vus Par ... (Les Gauloises) 

'Documentary', 12 minutes, t6 mm, colour 
Director: Werner Herzog 

Director of Photography: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 

Editor: Rainer Standke 

Sound Engineer: Bernard Aubouy 

Production Company: Erato Films, Paris 

Participants: Claude Josse, Jean Clemente, the rugby team of Stade 
Toulousain and the Sport Club of Graulheit 


Wodaabe - Die Hirten der Sonne (Wodaabe - Herdsmen of the 

'Documentary', 52 minutes, 16 mm, colour 

Director: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Patrick Sandrin 

Director of Photography: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 

Editor: Maximiliane Mainka 

Production Manager: Walter Saxer 

Sound Engineer: Walter Saxer 

Assistant Director: Claude Hervaint 

Music: Gounod, Mozart, Handel, Verdi 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 

Co-Producers: Siiddeutscher Rundfunk, Stuttgart and Arion 


Location: Southern Sahara (Republic of Niger) 
Participants: Wodaabe tribe 


Echos aus einem diisteren Reich (Echoes from a Sombre 

'Documentary', 93 minutes, 16 mm, colour 

Director: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Werner Herzog 

Co-producer: Galeshka Moravioff 

Director of Photography: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 


Editor: Rainer Standke 
Special Advisor: Michael Goldsmith 
Production Manager: Walter Saxer 
znd Camera Unit: Martin Manz 
Assistant Editor: Thomas Balkenhol 
Sound Engineer: Harald Maury 

Music: Bartok, Prokofiev, Luroslawski, Schubert, Shostakovich, 
J. S. Bach, Esther Lamandier 

Production Company: SERA Filmproduktion and Werner Herzog 

Co-Producers: Films Sans Fronrieres 
Location: Central African Republic 

Participants: Michael Goldsmith, Francois Gilbault, Augustine Assemat, 
Francis Szpiner, David Dacko, Marie- Reine Hassen 


Das excentrische Privattheater des Maharadjah von Udaipur 
(The Eccentric Private Theatre of the Maharaja of Udaipur) 

'Documentary', 85 minutes, 16 mm, colour 
Director: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Werner Herzog 
Staging: Andre Heller 

Photography: Rainer Klausmann, Wolfgang Dickmann, Anton Peschke 

Editor: Michou Hutter 

Production Manager: Wolfgang Rest 

Set Design: Edgar Neogy-Tezak 
Costume Design: Heidi Melinc 
Sound Engineer: Rainer Wiehr 

Assistant Camera: Claudius Kelterborn, Daniel Koppelmann, Bernhard 

Assistant Editor: Ursula Darrer 

Assistant Sound: Alois Unger 

Unit Manager: Rajesh Shirvaikar 

Assistant Production: Ajay Kapoor 

Production Company: Neue Studio Film GmbH, Vienna 

Co-Producers: ORF (Austria), Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF) 

Location: Udaipur (India) 


Scream of Stone (Schrei aus Stein) 

Feature, 105 minutes, 35 mm, colour 
Director: Werner Herzog 

Original screenplay: Hans-Ulrich BQenner, Walter Saxer, Robert Geof- 
frion (from an original idea by Reinhold Messner) 


Producers: Walter Saxer, Henri Lange, Richard Sadler 

Executive Producer: Walter Saxer 

Director of Photography: Rainer Klausmann 

Editor: Suzanne Baron 

Production Manager: Erna Eriacher 

Sound Editor: Manfred Arbter 

Production Design: Juan Santiago 

Set Design: Kristine Steinhilber, Cornelius Siegel, Wolfgang Siegel 

Costume Design: Ann Poppel 

znd Camera Unit (Climbing): Herbert Raditschnig 

Sound Engineer: Christopher Price 

Make-up and Hair: Berthold Sack, Ann Brodie, Udo Riemer 

Props: Bernd Grotzke 

Light Design: Manfred Raab 

Assistant Director: Salvatore Basile 

Assistant Camera: Claudius Kelterborn 

Assistant Editor: Anne Wagner 

Assistant Production: Dominique Sidoit, Ruth Charest 
Continuity: Andre Gaumond 

Still Photography: Stephane Compoint, Frederique de Lafosse 

Music: Heinrich Schiitz, Wagner, Ingram Marshal, Sarah Hopkins, Alan 

Lamb Production Company: Sera Filmproduktions GmbH 

Co-Producers: Molecule, Les Stock Films International, Zweites 

Deutsches Femsehen (ZDF), Canal+ 

Location: Patagonia (Argentina), Munich 

Premiered: Venice Film Festival 1991 

Cast: Vittorio Mezzogiorno (Roccia), Stefan Glowacz (Martin), 
Mathilda May (Katharina), Donald Sutherland (Ivan), Brad Dourif 
(Fingerless), AI Waxman (Stephan), Chavela Vargas (Indian Woman), 
Hans Kammerlander (Mountain Climber), Volker Prechtl (Himalayan 


Film Lesson 

Documentary (eight parts), Betacam, colour, 240 minutes (total) 

Director: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Gerda Weissenberger 

Directors of Photography: Karl Kofler, Michael Ferk 

Editor: Albert Skalak 

Sound: Gerhard Sandler 

Co-Producers: ORF (Austria) 

Location: Vienna 

Premiered: December 1991/January 1992 (television) 


Participants: Michael Kreihsl, Jeff Sheridan, Peter Turrini, Volker 
Schlon dorff, Kamal Saiful Islam, Philippe Petit, Ryszard JCapuscinski, 
Werner Herzog 


Lektionen in Finsternis (Lessons of Darkness) 

'Documentary', 52 minutes, Super 16, colour 
Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Lucki Stipetic 
Executive Producer: Paul Berriff 
Director of Photography: Paul Berriff 
Editor: Rainer Standke 
Production Manager: Paul Cotton 
Mixer: Manfred Arbter 
znd Camera Unit: Rainer Klausmann 
Aerial Camera: Simon Werry 
Helicopter Pilot: Jerry Grayson 
Sound Engineer: John G. Pearson 

Music: Wagner, Grieg, Prokofiev, Part, Verdi, Schubert, Mahler 
Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Paul Berriff, Premiere Hamburg 
Location: Kuwait 

Premiered: 27 February 1992 (television) 

Glocken aus der Tiefe (Bells from the Deep) 

'Documentary', 60 minutes. Super 16, colour 

Director: Werner Herzog 

Producers: Lucki Stipetic, Ira Barmak 

Supervising Producer: Mark Slater 

Director of Photography: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 

Editor: Rainer Standke 

2nd Camera Unit: Martin Manz 

Sound Engineer: Vyacheslav Belozerov 

Interpreter: Viktor Danilov 

Assistant Director: Rudolph Herzog 

Still Photography: Christine Ebcnbergcr, Werner Janoud 

Mixer: Max Rammler-Rogall 

Music: Choir of the Spiritual Academy, St Petersburg, Choir of the 
Zagorsk Monastery, Choir of the Piihtica Dormition Convent 
Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Momentous Events, Inc., New York 
Location: Russia 



Die Verwandlung der Welt in Musik (The Transformation of 
the World into Music) 

'Documentary', 90 minutes, Super 16, colour 

Director: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Lucki Stipetic 

Director of Photograpliy: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein 

Editor: Rainer Standke 

Costume Design: Henning von Gierke 

Sound Engineer: Ekkehart Baumung 

Light Design: Lutz Reitemeier 

Assistant Camera: Martin Manz 

Mixer: Klaus Handstein 

Music: Wagner (Choir and Orchestra of the Bayreuth Wagner Festival) 
Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Zweites Deutsches Femsehen (ZDF) 
Location: Bayreuth, Linderhof Castle 

Participants: Wolfgang Wagner, Sven Friedrich, Yohji Yamamoto, 
Placido Domingo, Dieter Dorn, Heiner Miiller, Waltraud Maier, 
Siegfried Jerusalem 


Gesualdo - Tod fiir fiinf Stimmen (Death for Five Voices) 

'Documentary', 60 minutes. Super 16, colour 
Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Lucki Stipetic 
Director of Photography: Peter Zeitlinger 
Editor: Rainer Standke 
Production Manager: Lucki Stipetic 
Sound Engineer: Ekkehart Baumung 
Light Design: Norbert Erben 

Assistant Directors: Pietro Medioli, Rudolph Herzog 

Assistant Camera: Thomas Prodinger 
Assistant Sound: Klaus Handstein 
Continuity: Jenny Erpenbeck 
Still Photography: Werner Janoud 
Music: Gesualdo, Wagner 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Zweites Deutsches Femsehen (ZDF) 
Location: Ferrara, Castel Gesualdo, Arezzo, Venosa, Naples 
Participants: Pasquale D'Onofrio, Salvatore Catorano, Angelo Carrabs, 
Milva, Angelo Michele Torriello, Raffaele Virocolo, Vincenzo Giusto, 
Giovanni ludica, Walter Beloch, Principe D'Avalos, Antonio Massa, 
Alan Curtis, Gennaro Miccio, Silvano Milli, Marisa Milli, Gerald Place, 
Alberto Lanini, li Complesso Barocco, Gesualdo Consort of London 



Little Dieter Needs to Fly (Flucht aus Laos) 

'Documentary', 80 minutes (theatrical), 52 minutes (English/German 

television). Super 16, colour 

Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 

Producer: Lucki Stipetic 

Executive Producer: Andre Singer 

Director of Photography: Peter Zeitlinger 

Editor: Rainer Standke 

Sound Editor: Josh Rosen 

Additional Photography: Les Blank 

Sound Engineer: Ekkehart Baumung 

Light Design: Norbert Erben 

Narrator: Werner Herzog 

Assistant Director: Herbert Golder 

Assistant Camera: Erik Sollner 

Assistant Editor: Glenn Scantlebury, Joe Bini 

Assistant Set: Rudolph Herzog 

Continuity: Anja Schmidt-Zaringer 

Still Photography: Helen Kim 

Music: Bartok, Carlos Gardel, Glenn Miller, Kongar-ol Ondar, Wagner, 
Dvorak, J. S. Bach, folk music of the people of Sayan Altai and the Ural 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 

Co-Producers: Zweites Deutsches Femsehen (ZDF) 

Location: Thailand, San Francisco, Tuscon, San Diego, Wildberg (Black 


Participant Dieter Dengler 


Julianes Sturz in den Dschungel (Wings of Hope) 

'Documentary', 70 minutes (theatrical), 42 minutes (German 

49 minutes (English television), Super 16, colour 
Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Lucki Stipetic 
Executive Producer: Peter Firstbrook (BBC) 
Director of Photography: Peter Zeitlinger 
Editor: Joe Bini 

Production Manager: Ulrich Bergfelder 
Sound Editor: Josh Rosen 

Mixer: David Nelson 
Sound Engineer: Eric Spitzer 
Assistant Director: Herbert Golder 
Assistant Camera: Erik Sollner 


Assistant Editor: Maya Hawke 
Continuity: Anja Schmidt-Zaringer 
Still Photography: Sylvia Vas 
Music: Wagner, Stravinsky 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), BBC Bristol 
Location: Peru 

Premiered: Munich Film Festival 1999 

Participants: Juliane Kopeke, Moises Rengito Chavez, Juan Limber Rib- 
era Soto, Richard Silva Manujama, Ricardo Oroche Rengite, El Moro, 
Simon Herzog 


Mein liebster Feind (My Best Fiend) 

'Documentary', 95 minutes. Super 16, colour 
Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Lucki Stipetic 

Executive Producers: Andre Singer, Christine Ruppert 
Director of Photography: Peter Zeitlinger 
Editor: Joe Bini 

Production Manager: Ulrich Bergfelder 
Sound Editor: Eric Spitzer 
Narrator: Werner Herzog 
Mixer: Hubertus Rath 
znd Camera Unit: Les Blank 
Sound Engineer: Eric Spitzer 
Assistant Director: Herbert Colder 
Assistant Camera: Erik Sollner 

Assistant Editors: Thomas Staunton, Thad Povey, Renate Hahner 

Assistant Sound: Chris Simon 

Continuity: Anja Schmidt-Zaringer 

Still Photography: Werner Janoud, Silvia Vas 

Music: Florian Fricke (Popol Vuh) 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 

Co-Producers: Cafe Productions Ltd., Zephir Film GmbH 

Location: Peru, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Germany, Paris, USA 

Premiered: Cannes Film Festival 1999 

Participants: Klaus Kinski, Eva Mattes, Claudia Cardinale, Beat Presser, 
Guillermo Rios, Andres Vicente, Justo Gonzalez, Benino Moreno 
Placido, Baron und Baronin von d. Recke, Jose Koechlin von Stein, Bill 


Gott and die Beladenen (The Lord and the Laden) 

'Documentary', 43 minutes, digital video, colour 


Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 
Producers: Martin Choroba, Joachim Puis 
Executive Producer: Lucki Stipetic 
Director of Photography: Jorge Vignati 
2nd Unit Camera: Ed Lachman 
Editor: Joe Bini 

Sound Engineer: Francisco Adrianzen 

Production Manager (Mexico): Luz-Maria Rojas 

Production Manager (Guatemala): Alfonso Rios Montt 

Assistant Camera: Gonzalo Tapia 

Re-recording Mixer: Josh Rosen 

Assistant Editor: Thomas Staunton 

Mixer: David Nelson 

Assistant Director: Herbert Colder 

Still Photography: Lena Pisetskaia 

Computer Animation: Dirk Engwicht, Stephan Hempel 

Accountant: Monika Kostinek 

Music: Gounod, Orlando di Lasso 

Production Company: Tellux Film 

Location: Antigua, San Andres Itzapa (Mexico), Guatemala 



'Documentary', 18 minutes, Super 16, colour 
Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 
Producer: Werner Herzog 

Executive Producer: Rodney Wilson, Christian Seidel 
Associate Producer: Lucki Stipetic 
Director of Photography: Jorge Pacheco 
Editor: Joe Bini 

Production Manager: Luz-Maria Rojas 
2nd Unit Camera: Jorg Schmidt-Reitwein, Erik SoUner 
Music: John Tavener (Mahamatra performed by BBC Symphony 
tra, conducted by Leonard Slatkin, sung by Parvin Cox and the West- 
minster Cathedral Choir) 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 
Co-Producers: BBC, Pipeline Films 
Premiered: London, 1 March 2001 



Feature, 130 minutes, 35 mm, colour 
Director/screenplay: Werner Herzog 
Producers: Gary Bart, Werner Herzog, Christine Ruppert 


Executive Producers: Paul Webster, Michael Andre, Simon Stewens, 

James Mitchell, Lucid Stipetic 

Director of Photography: Peter Zeitlinger 

Editor: Joe Bini 

Production Designer: Ulrich Bergfelder 
Costume Designer: Jany Temime 
Editor: Joe Bini 

Production Managers: Walter Saxer, Mark Popp 

Assistant Directors: Rudoph Herzog, Herb Colder 

Music: Hans Zimmer, Klaus Badelt 

Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion 

Location: Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, The Netherlands, Christmas 

Island (Australian Territory) 

Premiered: Venice Film Festival, September zooi 

Cast: Tim Roth (Hanussen), Jouko Ahola (Zishe Breitbart), Anna 

Gourari (Marta Farra), Jacob Wein (Benjamin Breitbart), Max Raabe 

(Master of Ceremonies), Gustav Peter Woehler (Landwehr), Udo Kier 

(Count Helldorf), Herb Colder (Rabbi Edelmann), Gary Bart (Yitzak 

Breitbart), Renata KroBner (Mother Breitbart) 



Even though since the 1970s there have been many books with Werner 
Herzog's name on the cover, either as author or subject, there is almost 
nothing currently available in English. As such, most of what is listed in 
this selected bibliography will not be easy to find. 
The most convenient first stop for readers wanting more information on 
Herzog's work is his own website ( http: / /www. '). an 
excellent source of information on film, opera and stage credits. Well 
designed and regularly updated by his Munich office, it also contains 
fairly comprehensive details of Herzog's published works (books, articles 
and translations) and Herb Golder's vast bibliographies of primary and 
secondary literature (books, dissertations, articles and interviews). 
As Herzog explained in Chapter 7 of this book, his own publishing 
house Skellig produced two volumes of his screenplays (in German) in 

1977. Only one volume (containing Aguirre, The Enigma of Kaspar 
Hauser and Land of Silence and Darkness) was published in English 
(Tanam, 1980). Over the years Carl Hanser Verlag have published several 
Herzog scripts in German (including Fitzcarraldo, Stroszek, Nosferatu, 
Where the Green Ants Dream and Cobra Verde), some of which are still 
in print. Fitzcarraldo was also published in English by Fjord Press in 

and several other language editions also exist, including a photobook 
(Schimer/Mosel, 1982) which also contains a selection of Herzog's diary 
entries written whilst on location. The journal L'Avant Scene du Cinema 
published French translations of the scripts of Aguirre and Kaspar Hauser 
in the 1970s. A mention should also be made of Burden of Dreams (North 
Atlantic Books, 1984, edited by Les Blank and James Bogan), a collection 
of journals, reviews and photographs, plus a transcript of Blank's film 
shot on the set of Fitzcarraldo. 

Herzog's book Of Walking in Ice was first published by Carl Hanser in 

1978. The English translation followed in 1980 (Tanam) and was subse- 
quently reprinted by Jonathan Cape in 1991. In 1976, Skellig published 
Heart of Glass, which contains Herzog and Herbert Achtembusch's prose 


script of the film intercut with Herzog's long-time collaborator Alan 
Greenberg's interviews and thoughts compiled whilst on the set of the 

Though Herzog has suffered somewhat at the hands of the press since 
his earliest films, he has never been shy to talk to the world's media (even 
if they at times might have been wary of him). As such, there is a huge 
number of interviews stretching back at least as far as 1968 in many lan- 
guages, though a scarcity of substantial pieces from the past ten years or 
so due to a relative lack of interest in 'documentary' filmmaking in many 
journals and newspapers (and the fact that very few of the recent Herzog 
'documentaries' got a release in Britain and the United States, or were 
even screened on television). Some of the most important interviews are 
listed in Herb Golder's bibliography on the website, though I might point 
out that the many ideas and themes that have preoccupied Herzog and 
that have repeatedly appeared in his print, television and radio interviews 
over the past thirty years are all elaborated on at length in this book. 
Christopher Lambert's essay on Herzog in World Film Directors Vol- 
ume II: 1945-1985 (H. W. Wilson Company, 1988) remains a good intro- 
duction, while the only critical study of the films in English is Timothy 
Corrigan's collection of essays Between Mirage and History: The Films of 
Werner Herzog, Methuen, 1986), of which only Amos Vogel's contribu- 
tion stands out. There are two critical studies of the films in French 
(Emmanuel Carrere's Werner Herzog and Radu Gabrea's Werner Herzog 
et la mystique rhenane), neither of which have been translated into Eng- 
lish. Carl Hanser published Werner Herzog in 1979, which contains a 
lengthy interview and commentaries on the films (up to Woyzeck), and 
the relevant chapters in the same publisher's Herzog/Kluge/Straub (1976) 
are similarly structured. 

For more in English on twentieth-century German cinema, Sabine 
Hake's German National Cinema (Routledge, 2001) is a good summary, 
though for specifics on New German Cinema, James Franklin's New (Ger- 
man Cinema (Columbus Books, 1986) and Thomas Elsaesser's New Ger- 
man Cinema (Rutgers University Press, 1989) are more substantial. 
Elsaesser and Michael Wedel's 'The BFI Companion to German Cinema 
(BFI, 1999) is also a good alphabetical listing, while Eric Rentschler's 
West German Filmmakers on Film, Visions and Voices (Holmes and 
Meier, 1988) is a useful collection of writings by West German directors 
(including Kluge, Straub, Syberberg, Achtembusch, Schlondorff, Wen- 
ders, Fassbinder and Herzog). It also contains the texts of the Ober- 
hausen, Mannheim and Hamberg Manifestos. For those interested in 
East German cinema, DEFA: East German Cinema, 1946-1992 
(Berghahn, 1999) by Sean Allan and John Sanford is well worth reading. 
Klaus Kinski's crazed autobiography, Kinski Uncut (Bloomsbury, 
1997). is a grotesque and sensational rant, certainly worth twenty minutes 


of your time. Kinski (Parthas, 2000), is a beautiful book of photographs 
by Herzog's long-time collaborator and friend Beat Presser, and several 
other books on Kinski have appeared recently, including a volume of his 
poetry entitled Fieber, Tagebuch eines Aussatzigen (Eichborn Verlag, 
2001) and another photo book, Ich, Kinski (Deutsches Filmmuseum, 
Frankfurt am Main, 2001). 

Finally to the films themselves, and an appreciation must go to Anchor 
Bay Entertainment who are currently doing such a good job of their 
(North American) DVD and video re-releases of Herzog's films. Many of 
the DVDs contain commentaries with Herzog talking through the films 
scene by scene, and the digital transfers have been supervised by the 
director himself. As such, they look and sound wonderful. 




Page references in italics are to illustrations; suffix n indicates endnotes 

DcldUIlUc, rclIlallUU, loo, 

Achtembusch., Herbert, 35j 6211 

1S611S jTOTn ine ueep, ^39, '^^^■^ ^^5*-' 

rVQcill, IvcU, / 


IJClglclCLcl, UlIlLii, 10^ 

A-QuivvB, the WvQth of Godj viii, 8, 

Bergman, Ingmar, 83 

34-8, 50-1, 55, 76-94- 90j 

Berlin Film Festival, 25, 245 

109, 15") loo, 

Bernhard, Thomas, 137 

or^o_.i 212, 222, 001 2o>i 

Rfarri-ff Pmil 'yAf\~fi 

onA or*^ otQ oQQ ni 
■^O*^) *^/4) '^/O, ilOO yi 

DldllK, IjCb, Di, iJO) /) ^OIJ, 

Aiiuoncr, AiDrccni, ^^o 

Bokassa, Jean-Bedel, 216-19 

Amehuca trib6, 173~5 

Bosch, Hieronymus, 136, 245 

America, 141^4 

Bowie, David, 211 

Amnesty International, 184 

Brakhage, Stan, 9, 29n, 107 

Anger, Kenneth, 9, 29n 

Brando, Marlon, 141 

Apocalypse Now, 257 

Brandt, Willy, 278, 300n 

Archimedes, 178 

Breitbart, Zishc, 241, 297 

Astaire, Fred, 138 

Bresson, Robert, i65n, 257 

Austrahan aboriginees, 206-8 

Broadway Melody 0/1940, 138 

Aztec culture, 295 

Brogle, Peter, 41, 79 

Bach, J. S., 136 

Browning, Todd, 60, 136 

Ballad of the Little Soldier, 190-3 

Brueghel, Pieter, 136, 245 

192, 242 

Bruno S., viii, 110-25, 142-5, 276 

Bart, Gary, 297 

Bruno the Black, 116 

Bavarian culture, 23 

Biichner, Georg, 137, i64n 

Bayreuth Festival, 253-4, 259-60 

Bundesfilmpreis, 25, 27 

BBC (British Broadcasting 

Bunuel, Luis, 138, i65n, 232, 237n 


Burden of Dreams, 61-2, 160, 175, 

tion), 295 


Behan, Brendan, 221, 236n 


Busoni, Femiccio, 254 
Cameroon, 51-2 

Cannes Film Festival, 46, 119-20 
Cardinals, Claudia, 170, 176, 189, 

Carl Mayer Award, 19, 22 
Caruso, Enrico, 170, 176 
Ceausescu, Nicolas, 159 
Central African Republic, 216-19 
Cerro Torre, 223-6 
Charlemagne, 153 
charreiadas, 21-2 
Chatwin, Bruce, 208, 211-12, 
280-3, 30on 
Chekhov, Anton, xi 
Chiarini, Claude, 162 
Christianity, 66, 294 
Chumack, Alan, 251 
CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), 
190, 192 

Ciconia, Johannes, 137 

Cine Novo, 33 

cinema verite, 239-40, 27m 

Cinematheque Francaise, 63n 

Cobra Verde, 38, 109, 208-9, 209, 

212-13, 293 

Codax, Martim, 137 

Codex Florentino and Codex 

Telleriano-Remensis, 294-5 

The Collected Works of Billy the 

Kid, 221 

Conrad, Joseph, 66, 137, 211 
Crete, 39 

Croagh Patrick, 108, 163 

da Silva, Franciso Manoel, 211 

Dante, Alighieri, 245 

The Dark Glow of the Mountains, 

193-7, *94, 2-2-3-4 

Darwin, 208 

Death for Five Voices, ix, 239, 249, 
260-3, ''>^ 
Delft, 156-7 

Dengler, Dieter, ix, 7-8, 263-71 

Dinkelsbiihl, 114 

Doctor Faustus, 254 

Dogme 95 films, 107, 140, 277-8, 


Dourif, Brad, 223 

Dreyer, Carl Theodore, 125, i34n, 

136, 138 

Dunbar Ortiz, Roxanne, 20on 

Dylan, Bob, 141 

The Eccentric Private Theatre of 

Maharaja of Udaipur, 220 
Echoes from a Sombre Empire, 

Eisner, Lotte, 46, 54, 151-5, 16511, 

222, 234, 281-2 

L'Enfant Sauvage, 125 

The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, 

vii-viii, 34, 36, 38, 48, 69-70, 

77, 87, 99, 103-28, H7, 135, 

144-6, 153, 163, 203-4, 222, 

234, 256, 274-5, 

Escape from Laos, 36 

Even Dwarf Started Small, viii, 

44-7, 55-60, 57, 82, 89, 

93, 98-9, 127-8, 276 

Fanck, Arnold, 223, 23 6n 

Farouk, King of Egypt, 139 

Fassbinder, Rainer Werner, 22-3, 

29n, 3on, 32-5, 151 

Fata Morgana, 43-54, 4#, 68, 94, 

108, 114-15, 136, 203, 248-9, 

2-55-7, *74 

Faulkner, William, 141 
Fellini, Federico, 286 
Film/Femsehen Abkommen, 36 
Film Lesson, 227, 230 
film magazines, 163 
film schools, 13-16, 227-8 
films about films, 185 
Filmverlag der Autoren, 35, 62n 
Fitzcarrald, Jose Fermin, 171 


Fitzcarraldo, viii, 13, 19, 23, 38, 

62, 96, 106, 109, 162, 169-90, 

174, 197-8, 2.28-9, 2-33, Mo, 

256, 282, 286-93 Passim 

Fitzgerald, Brian Sweeney, 170 

Fleischmann, Peter, 223 

The Flying Doctors of East Africa, 

45-6, 50 

football, 102 

Ford, John, 81, 125 

Freaks, 60, 64T1, 136 

Freyse, Giinther, 51 

Fricke, Florian, 27, 54, 80, 126, 

256, 258 

Friedrich, Caspar David, 66, 135-6, 
139, i63n 

Game in the Sand, 18-19, 98 

Gasherbrun, 196, 225 

Gates of Heaven, 166 

Gcin, Ed, 147 

'genius', 139 

German barbarism, 218 

German cinema, 34, 37-8, 281; see 

also New German Cinema 

German culture, 23, 160-1, 222, 


German Expressionism, 9 

German reunification, 278-80 

Gesualdo, Carlo, 137, 258-63 

Ghana, 210, 212 

Giovanna d'Arco, 259 

Glowacz, Stefan, 226 

God's Angry Man, 167-g, 168 

Godard, Jean-Luc, 138 

Goebbels, Joseph, 232, 23 7n 

Golder, Herb, 162 

Goldsmith, Michael, 218-19, M^- 

Goya, Francisco Jose de, 66, 245 

Grass, Giinter, 63n, 279 

The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver 

Steiner, 36, 94-7, 127-8, 

179-80, 188, 255-6 

Grenzstationen, 180 

Grierke, Henning von, 157 
Griffith, D. W., 138, i&m, 235 
Griinewald, Mathaus, 136, 228 
Guerra, Ruy, 33, 62n 
Handicapped Future, 72-3 
Handke, Peter, 114, i33n, 137 
Heart of Glass, viii, 17, 68, 108, 
126-7, 131, 132, 135, 145, 
157, 162, 203, 233, 256 
Heimatfilm, 223, 23 6n 
Heinemann, Gustav, 73 
Heller, Andre, 220 
Hemingway, Ernest, 66, 137, 141 
Hepburn, Katharine, 300 
Herakles, vii, 10, 13, 16, 18 
Herzog, Dietrich, 3 
Herzog, Elizabeth, 3-4, 74 
Herzog, Lucki, 8, 85, 108, 205, 235 
Herzog, Rudolph, 54, 227 
Herzog, Werner 
family and early life 
father and mother, 3-4, 74 
brother see Herzog, Lucid 
son, 54, 227 

sporting activities when young, 
94-5, 101-2 

studies at the University of 
Pittsburgh, 20 
travels in Crete, 39 
travels in Kos, 38-41 
travels in Mexico, 21-2 
landmarks in career 
first film, vii, 10, 13 
first feature film, viii, 3 8 
first colour film, 44 
first international success, viii 
invitation to Hollywood, 12 
fihns made for NASA, 20 
fihn awards, 19, 22, 25, 27 
general approach to film-making 
avoidance of close-ups, 109 
casting, 116 

concern wdth aesthetics, 107-8 


craftsmanship, 135, 139-40 
determination, 179-80 
expressionism, 135-6 
liistorical accuracy, T i i -13 
ideology, 65-6 

improvisation by actors, 104-5 

innocence in film-making, 42 

landscapes, 81-3 

language, 158 

locations, 101-2 

orientation, 230-2 

poetic expression, 128 

risk-taking, 19, 150, 186 

role in producing of films, 

10-11, 205 

romanticism, 135-6 

studio filming, 103-4 

'themes' of films, 67 

use of dream sequences, 61, 


use of a 'family' of characters, 
68-9, 201 

use of mirages, 49, 51 
use of music, 255-6, 295-6 
use of real people as characters, 
viii, 167-9, 218-19, 247, 
251, 268-71; see also 
Dengler, Dieter; Messner, 

experiences in exotic locations 
with Australian Aborigines, 

in the American midwest, 141 

in Cameroon, 51-2 

in the Central African 

Republic, 216-17 

in desert conditions, 49-52 

at Dinkelsbiihl, 114 

in jungle conditions, 81, 84, 86, 


in Nicaragua, 190-2 
on the Rio Camisea, 173-5 
with the Wodaabe tribe, 


publications, 204, 221, 282 
screenplays, 24, 105-6 
script-writing, 65 
story structure, 238 
treatment of religious subjects, 

unpublished writing, 282 

engagement with practical aspects 

of film-making 

acting ability, 69, 173, 278, 


continuity, 105, 126 
dailies, 277 

dealing with disasters, 40-1 
directors' cuts, 114 
editing, 36, 273-7 
fascination with language, 

forgery of documents, 233 
hypnosis of actors, 127-30 
out-takes, 234 
preparation of sets, 103 
pre-production work, 101-2 
rushes, 234 
screen tests, 118 
sound design, 256-7 
storyboards, 104 
use of animals in films, 60, 
98-9, 156-7 

video technology, 277-8 
voice-overs, 54-5, 249 
work with cameramen, 73, 

concern with audiences 
attitude to critics, 109-10 
cultural conditioning, 46 
respect for public opinion, 

relations with the media and 
pressure groups 

accusations of fascism, 55-6 
accusations of human rights 
abuses, 184 


accusations of links with th6 

Guerra, Ruy, 3 3 

1^11 t^/^o Al/'ii'fi "toft 
JvUlOfsaWd, /\Kllci, IjO 

dealing with wild rumours, 60, 

Marker, Chris, 239~40 


Melville, Jean-Pierre, 231 

political correctness, 56 

Morris, Errol, 146-8, 166-7? 

reports of casualties during 


filming, 180-1, 185 

Murnau, Friedrich Wilhelm, 

notable collaborators 

138, 151-2, 155 

rserriii, r aui, 240-0 

Pudovkin, Vsevolod, 138 

Blank, Les, 166-7 

Riefenstahl, Leni, 223 

Cardinale, Claudia, 286 

Rocha, Glauber, 33 

Eisner, Lotte, 54? i5i"5 

Rouch, Jean, 126 

Fricke, Florian, 54? 256 

Tarkovsky, Andrei, 138 

^jOiuer, jiero, 102 

views on different types of fibn 

Jagger, Mick, 170-3 

anthropology in films, 213-14 

Lachman, Ed, 148-50 

art films, 139 

Mainka-Jellinghaus, Beate, 

cinema verite, 239~4'^ 


documentaries, 238-43 

IVlaTieS, iiva, 270, 2oD 

ethnography in films, 214 

Mauch, Thomas, 73» 109 

films about films, 185 

Reichle, Denis, 190-1 

genre films, 108, 151 

Saxer, W^alter, 223 

mountain films, 222-3 

Scheitz, Clemens, 145"6 

'political' films, 190 

Schmidt- Re it wein, Jorg, 73? 

science fiction films, 177? 248 

iuo-y, 140 y 

n 1 n f'\T*'f/~\'t* iti "film o /I r" 
oiyiiZcU IlOIIUI ill lillllo, ^^Xi 

oegier, wiiii, 110-19 

vampire films, 151? 155 

Siegel, Cornelius, 157? 162 

Weimar films, 9?i5i) 153 

Xaverner, John, 29 

^Vestern films, 81, 229-30 

vvyuoiiiy, jviduo, iu/-o 

ZjUiio iliiiio, ^^y 

Zeitlinger, Peter, 73? 162 

see also Dogme 95 films 

S6G qIso Kinski, Klaus 

views on the organisation of the 

views on other film directors 

film industry 

Bergman, Ingmar, 83 

bureaucracy, 233 

riidnK, i^es, 105 

censorship, 59 

Brakhage, Stan, 107 

film magazines, 163 

iJLC&oUll, JVUUCIL, ^0/ 

Ti"i InT^Tf^i'l (T HfiT' Antofpn o c 
J. iliil V Ci Idg, llCl xA.U.LUldl, J JJ 

Browning, Todd, 60 

financing of films, 203-4? 297 

Bunuel, Luis, 232 

independent film-making, 

Dreyer, Carl Theodore, 138 


Fassbinder, Rainer Werner, 

preservation of old films. 



Ford, John, 81 

subsidies, 24-5 

Godard, Jean-Luc, 138 

television film-making, 3 6-7, 

Griffith, D.W., 138 



views on the training and develop- 
ment o f film-makers 
film schools, 13-16, 2.27-8 
Kuratorium junger deutscher 
Film, 25 

views on contemporary culture 

attitude to museums, 222 

Bavarian culture, 23 

circus artists, 139 

dislike of the word 'genius', 


imagery of modem civilization, 

magicians, 227 

theatre productions, 220-1 

tourism, 280 

see also German culture 

appreciation of literature, music 

and art 

Aztec culture, 295 
Conrad, Joseph, 211 
Gesualdo, Carlo, 258-63 
literary influences, 54, 137-8 
musical influences, 137, 258 
orchestral concerts, 221-2 
Segers, Hercules, 13 6-9 
Stoker, Bram, 15 5-6 
Wagner, 253-5, 2-58-9 
work in opera 
at Bayreuth, 253-4, 258-60 
comparison with film directing, 
104, 260 

Doctor Faustus, 254 
stylization of performances, 

view of other directors' produc- 
tions, 221 

views on other major cultural 


Behan, Brendan, 221 
Chatwin, Bruce, 211-12, 


Friedrich, Caspar David, 
135-6, 139 

Kapuscinski, Ryszard, 219 
personal life and pursuits away 

from work 

sporting activities, 101-2 
staying in hotels, 222 

walking, 279-82 

character and philosophy of life 
goals of existence, 202 
lack of a sense of irony, 26-8 
never getting bored, 60 
political views, 56, 267, 

religious attitudes and beliefs, 
10, 66, 294 

sense of humour, 28, 44 
seeking of adventure, 198-9 

view of happiness, 26, 202 
films seeAguirre, the Wrath of 
God; Ballad of the Little Sol- 
dier; Bells from the Deep; 
Bruno the Black; Burden of 
Dreams; Cobra Verde; The 
Dark Glow of the Mountains; 
Death for Five Voices; The 
Eccentric Private Theatre of the 
Maharaja of Udaipur; Echoes 
from a Sombre Empire; The 
Enigma of Kaspar Hauser; 
Escape from Laos; Even 
Dwarfs Started Small; Fata 
Morgana; Fitzcarraldo; The Fly- 
ing Doctors of East Africa; 
Game in the Sand; Gasherbrun; 
God's Angry Man; The Great 
Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner; 
Handicapped Future; Heart of 
Glass; Herakles; How Much 
Wood Would a Woodchuck 
Chuck; Huie's Sermon; Invinci- 
ble; Land of Silence and Dark- 
ness; Last Words; Lessons of 
Darkness; Little Dieter Needs 
to Fly; Lord and the Laden; 
Love Is Colder than Death; 


My Best Fiend; No One Will 
Play with Me; Nosferatu; Pil- 
grimage; Precautions Against 
Fanatics; Scream of Stone; Signs 
of Life; La Sou friere; Stroszek; 
The Transformation of the 
World into Music; The 
Unprecedented Defence of 
Fortress Deutschkreuz; Where 
the Green Ants Dream; Wings 
of Hope; Wodaabe; Woyzeck 
Hessicher Rundfunk, 76 
Hilton, Conrad, 1 
Hitler, Adolf, 93 
Holderlin, Friedrich, 137, i64n, 

Hombrecito, 87, 126 
How Much Wood Would a Wood- 
chuck Chuck, 140 
Huie's Sermon, 167,169 
Hunting Scenes in Bavaria, 223 
Hussein, Saddam, 246 
hypnosis, 127-30 
I Am My Films, 201 
Iceland, 37 

Invincible, x, 16, 40, 104-6, 129, 
212, 241, 274, 297-9, 29S 
Ireland, 279 

Jagger, Mick, 170-3, 185 
Kafka, Franz, 66 

Kammerlander, Hans, 195-6, 225 
Kapuscinski, Ryszard, 219, 23 6n 
Kautner, Helmut, 152, i65n 
Keaton, Buster, 138, 299 
Keller, Helen, 75 
Kempis, Thomas a, 296 
Kinder, MUtter und ein General, 

Kinski, Klaus, vii-viii, 84, 87-93, 
106, 139, 142, 155-61, i63n, 
173, 185-6, 197, 208-10, 213, 
241, 256, 283-9, 292-3 
Kinski Uncut, 288-9, 300n 

Kitezh, Lost City of, 252-3 
Klausmann, Rainer, 181 
Kleist, Heinrich von, 110, 136-7, 

Huge, Alexander, 24-5, 3on, 33, 

35, 276 

Kodak company, 44-5 
Kolingba, Andre, 217 
Konzelmann, Manfred, 148-9 
Kopeke, Juliane, 268-71 
Korea, 279 

Korine, Harmony, 27, 137, 278 

Kos, 38-41, 82 

Kruk, Reiko, 158 

Kuhlman, Quirin, 136 

Kuratoriumjunger deutscher 

Film, 25, 30-3ln 

Kurosawa, Akira, 138, i65n, 286 

Kuwait, 243-8 

Lachman, Ed, 148-50 

Land o f Silence and Darkness, 

viii, 69-76, 71, 108, 116, 124, 129, 

240, 249, 270 

Lang, Fritz, 152-3 

Langlois, Henri, 46, 63n, 235 

Lanzarote, 82 

Las Vegas, 147 

Lassus, Orlando de, 137 

Last Words, 42-4, 43 

Leonardo da Vinci, 136, 228 

Lessons of Darkness, viii-ix, ill, 

136,241-9, 244, 253 

Little Dieter Needs to Fly, ix, 7, 3 6, 

43, 243, 263-8, 264, 270 

Lohengrin, 254, 258-9 

Lord and the Laden, 278, 294 

Love Is Colder than Death, 32 

Luddy, Tom, 167, 199n 

Ludwig II, King of Bavaria, 23, 29n 

Lumiere brothers, 177, 235 

Luther, Martin, 137 

Machu Picchu, 92-3 


Mad Max, 138 
Maestri, Cesare, 194, 223 
Mainka-Jellinghaus, Beate, 71, 

Mamet, David, vii 

Mange Tout, Monsieur, 199 

Marker, Chris, 239-40, 272n 

Mattes, Eva, 143-8 passim, 276, 


Mauch, Tliomas, 50, 73, 84-5, 93, 

99, 109, 145, 186, 210 

Mekas, Jonas, 29n 

Melies, Georges, 227, 235, 237n 

Melville, Jean-Pierre, 231 

Messner, Rcinhold, 193-7, 199; 


Mezzogiorno, Vittorio, 225 
Michelangelo, Buonarroti, 61, 139 
Milva, 261 

Minnesota Declaration, 238-9, 
280, 300-2 

Monteverdi, Claudio, 137 

Monument Valley, 81 

Morris, Errol, 146-8, i65n, 166-7, 


'mountain films', 222-3, 2.36n 

Moussaieff Masson, Jeffrey, 13 3n 

Murnau, Friedrich Wilhelm, viii, 9, 

138, 151-2, 155, i64n 

My Best Fiend, 38, 44, 88, 179, 

185, 189, 241, 283-8, 285 

Nana Agyefi Kwame II, King of 

Nsein, 213 

Nanga Parbat, 194-6 

NASA (National Aeronautics and 

Space Administration), 20, 67 

National Enquirer, 163 

Nazarin, 232, 237n 

New German Cinema, viii, 32-3, 


Nicaragua, 190-2, 242 

Nietzsche, Friedrich, x 

No One Will Play with Me, 97-8 

Nosferatu, win, 12, 82, 108, 151- 
60, 154, 222, 256, 272 
Oberhausen Manifesto, 25, 3on, 

Oberhausen Short Film Festival, 22 

O'Connor, Flannery, 141 

Of Walking in Ice, 282-3 

Okello, John, 50-1 

Ondaatje, Michael, 221 

opera, 104, 221, 253-4, 258-60 

Out of Africa, 213 

Oxford English Dictionary, 138 

Padre Padrone, 138, 255 

Paganini, Niccolo, 210 

Pascal, Blaise, 242-3 

Pasolini, Pier Paolo, 286 

La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, 125, 

136, 138 

Perth Film Festival, 206 

Petit, Philippe, 227, 237n 
Pilgrimage, 48, 214, 255, 257, 278, 

Pittsburgh University, 20 
Plainfield, Wisconsin, 146-8 
Popol Vuh, 54, 63n, 256 
Precautions Against Fanatics, 44 
Presser, Beat, 186, 284 
producing, Herzog's role in, to-t 1, 

Psycho, 147 

Pudovkin, Vsevolod, 138, i65n 
Ray, Satyajit, 255 
Reichle, Denis, 190-1 
Reitz, Edgar, 24, 3on, 33, 62n 
Rembrandt van Ryn, 136 
Riefenstahl, Leni, 223, 23 6n 
Rieth, Klara, 287 
Rimbaud, Arthur, 125 
Robards, Jason, 170, 172, 185 
Rocha, Glauber, 33, 62n 
Rogers, Huie, 169 


Rosenheim, 5-6, 28n 
Roth, Tim, 297 
Rouch, Jean, 126, 134n 
Roud, Richard, 6311 
Riizicka, Victor, 210 
Sachrang, 4 
Sacks, Ohver, 75-6, 115 
Sahagun, Bernardino de, 295 
Saiful Islam, Kama], 228 
San Quentin prison, 147 
Sandanistas, the, 190-1 
Sauer, Hans Dieter, 51 
Saxer, Walter, 160, 223, 286 
Scheitz, Clemens, 145-6 
Schell, Maximillian, 288 
Schlondorff, Volker, 22, 2911, 32 
Schmidt-Reitwein, Jorg, 50-2, 
69-73, 108-9, "8 , 132, 
148-9, 208 

Schroeter, Werner, 35, 62n 
Schiitz, Heinrich, 258 
Schutzstaffel, 28n 
Scorpio Rising, 2gn 
Scott, Gene, 167-9 
Scream of Stone, 198, 222-4, 
Segers, Hercules, 136-9, 228 
Segler, Willi, 119 
Shakespeare, William, 125 
Sheridan, Jeff, 227 
Siegel, Cornelius, 157, 162 
Siegel Hans, 17-18 
Signs of Life, viii, 18, 20, 22, 25, 
38-42, 40, 79, 82-3, 93, 99, 
106, 109, 114, 143, 153, 203, 
256, 273 

Simon, John, 110 
Sistine Chapel, 61 
Sitney, R Adams, 9, 28-9n 
Skellig (publishing house), 203 
Skertchly, J. A., 235n 
Somoza, Anastasio, 190-1 
La Soufriere, viii, 28, 148-51, 149, 
185-6, 249 

Staudte, Wolfgang, 152, i65n 

Steiner, Walter, 95-7, 126 

Der Stern, 184 

Sterne, Laurence, 137-8 

Stoker, Bram, 155-6 

Stroszek, 98-9, 141-6, 142, 275 

Sturm Sepp, 16-17 

Tarkovsky, Andrei, 138 

Tavemer, John, 295-6, 300n 

Taviani brothers, 138, 255 

Teatro Amazonas, 171, i99-200n 

Telluride Film Festival, 286 

The Tin Drum, 63n 

'To See or Not To See', 115 

Toronto Film Festival, i34n 

The Tragic Diary f Zero the Fool, 


The Transformation of the World 
into Music, 140, 253 
Trenker, Luis, 223, 236n 
Truffaut, Francois, vii, 125, 134n 
Twentieth Century Fox, 12, 172 
The Unprecedented Defence of 
Fortress Deutschkreuz, 18 
Varda, Agnes, viii 
Verlag, Carl Hanser, 204, 221 
The Viceroy of Ouidah, 211 
Vienna Film Festival, 227 
Vietnam War, 264-7 
Vignati, Jorge, 186 
Vissarion, 249-51 
Vogel, Amos, 47, 54, 63n 
Volkssturm, 190-1, 20on 
von Arnim, Achim, 3 8-9 
Voyages to Hell, 265 
Wagner, Richard, 253-5, 258-9 
Wagner, Wolfgang, 255, 258-9 
walking, 279-82 
Walser, Robert, 97 
Warhol, Andy, 242 


Wassermann, Jakob, 114, 13311 

Waterloo, 231 

Weimar films, 9, 151, 153 

Welles, Orson, 141, 299 

Wenders, Wim, 32-6, 62n, 63n, 


Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe, 166 
Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, 


Where the Green Ants Dream, 68, 

206-8, 207, 211 

Wings of Hope, 179, 268-71 

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, 60 

Wodaabe, 214-16 

Woyzeck (Biichner's play), 137, 


Woyzeck (Herzog's film), 38, 98, 

Wybomy, Klaus, 107-8, 133n 
Young Tdrless, 22, 32 
Yurieff, Yuri Yurevitch, 251 
Zeitlinger, Peter, 73, 162 
Zweites Deutsches Femsehen, 62-3 


Herzog on Herzog is an invaluable career-spanning set of interviews 
with the legendary German filmmaker once hailed by Fran(;ois Truffaut 
as the most important director alive. Famous for his frequent 
collaborations with mercunal actor Klaus Kinski - including the epics 
Aguirre, the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, and the terrifying 
Nosferatu - Werner Herzog has built a body of work that is one of the 
most vital in post-war European cinema. 

Most of what we think we know about Herzog is untrue: he is a 
director around whom a quite astonishing number of myths, rumours, 
and downright lies have accumulated. This book, offering innumerable 
insights into the making of his extraordinary films, also sets the record 
straight on the many controversies that have accompanied them. We 
learn of his adventures during the arduous production of Aguirre in 
the Peruvian jungle; of his casting of the previously institutionalized 
Bruno S. in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser; the hypnosis of the entire 
cast of Heart of Glass; hiS journey to an explosive volcanic Caribbean 
island to film La Soufriere; and his infamous dragging of a boat over a 
mountain in the Amazon jungle for Fitzcarraldo. Later chapters focus 
on his acclaimed and unclassifiable 'documentary' films, such as 
Lessons of Darkness and Little Dieter Needs to Fly. 

Herzog's place in cinema history is assured. Now Herzog on Herzog 

provides the definitive platform for his passionate, fascinating, and 
fiercely humorous views on the places, people and ideas that have 
preoccupied him across his career.